How blockchain can boost security in the IoT era

The Internet of Things (IoT) is among one of the most exciting developments in the technology industry. As the race to make the interconnected era a reality continue to gather pace, there is a criticial issue that organisations need to solve: security.

The world is full of connected devices – and more are coming.

IBM's Jerry Cuomo is encouraging the US government to develop the necessary policies that encourage blockchain use

The billions of smart devices coming to the Internet of Things (IoT) could transform homes, cities and lives. By 2020 that number could exceed 20 billion, and by 2030 there could be 500 billion or more.

The IoT allows devices and people to connect via the Internet so new actions can be enabled. The main ability of IoT is to gather and exchange data from various sources in such a way that the data becomes actionable and lets devices and users make decisions based on it.

As IoT continues to gather pace to become more mainstream, a number of key challenges are also fast emerging, chief among which is security.

“This proliferation of IoT presents new and unique security challenges,” says Sebastien Pavie, director, Enterprise and Cybersecurity, META, Gemalto. “The interconnected nature of IoT means that every poorly secured device that is connected online poses a potential risk, and as the number devices and connections increase, come an even greater need for security,” he explains.

Since IoT involves interconnecting multiple devices that threat actors can access, that means that hackers can accomplish more. Cybercriminals could potentially gain access to a device as menial as a printer or a thermostat and take over the whole ecosystem of devices connected to it.

“As businesses become increasingly interdependent and cloud-enabled, they need reliable, secure and instantaneous connectivity to compete,” says Jeroen Schlosser, managing director, Equinix MENA.

Schlosser says that among the key challenges in interconnected era include securing exponential growth in volumes and velocity data; managing complex and multi-provider integration; monitoring the movement of data to a single location for; and security and operational risk exposure.

But perhaps, the biggest IoT security flaws revolve around three areas: authentication, connection, and transaction. “Blockchain can alleviate the security flaws that revolves around these three areas,” says Schlosser.

“The decentralised nature of blockchain ensures that no single authority can influence the activities within an IoT ecosystem making it secure.”

Schlosser explains that this quality of blockchain plays a vital role when it comes to cybersecurity. In a centralised network, hackers can perform cyber-attacks like shutting down systems, tampering with data, spoofing identities, luring users into cyber traps and so on. “They do these things just by targeting central repositories and single points of failure,” he says. “Blockchain’s decentralised approach to store and share information in a ledger is the way to bypass all the security threats.”

Among the biggest security advantage of blockchain is transparency. Everyone can see the blocks and the transactions stored in them but at the same time, the cryptographic algorithms used by blockchains ensures that the data is kept private.

Blockchain has strong data protections built in by design, which prevents a vulnerable device from transmitting malicious information or from disrupting a home, business or even a city.

According to a study by Netscribes, the global blockchain technology market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 42.8 percent and reach $13.96 billion by 2022.

These figures highlight that just like IoT, blockchain is one of the most pivotal emerging technologies today. It has far-reaching potential and widespread applications for both government institutions and major businesses across the Middle East, particularly the GCC. As a leading example, Dubai is committed to becoming the world’s first blockchain-powered city by 2020, as the government believes that several sectors will be the beneficiaries of this technology.

“Like so many other transaction types, IoT communication has historically required a trusted third-party,” explains Pavie.

“Blockchain changes this dynamic, distributing the trust model, recording the transaction on a shared ledger and cutting out the central authority. This new design will benefit the security of IoT since it eliminates the restrictions imposed by the traditional central authority trust model, which have made IoT vulnerable.”

Pavie highlights that blockchain’s immutability keeps identities secure and all data far more trustworthy, which have profound benefits for sectors such as finance, insurance and trade among others.

Blockchain’s dependability and security also hold great potential for new offerings like “smart contracts” – self-executing agreements that were largely theoretical before blockchain. “For instance, a life insurance smart contract could immediately release funds to a beneficiary upon the death of a policyholder through electronic checking of death certificates,” explains Pavie.

By eliminating (or dramatically reducing) the need for human involvement, processes can be accelerated while errors and delays are kept to a minimum.

Both blockchain and IoT technologies have long ways to go before being completely integrated and secure. Nevertheless, these two emerging trends hold great promise for future developments and it will extremely be exciting to see where that path leads.

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