The Internet of Things (IoT) has grown in leaps and bounds over the last decade, and it has only just started. By 2025, there will be more than 41 billion connected devices. The growth of IoT will improve many daily processes for both small consumers and businesses alike. Unfortunately, security remains an on-going concern for the IoT ecosystem.
There are many ways through which the increasingly interconnected environment of an IoT world can be exploited by rogue elements causing harm and financial loss for individuals and businesses.
Security techniques such as two-factor authentication and biometrics deployment are two solutions already in use, but there is only so much they can do. Blockchain technology, on the other hand, is a mostly untapped solution that can drastically reduce or eliminate much of the security issues of the IoT world.
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At its core, blockchain is a distributed and decentralized public ledger. The blocks are digital information, while the chain is the public database holding the data. The main advantages of blockchain technology include the following:
One of the most prominent characteristics of blockchain technology is the fact that the recorded transactions are open to everyone. This ensures increased accountability for everyone involved.
The decentralized nature of the blockchain technology eliminates the need for intermediaries in many processes. The unified system can improve all kinds of operations by reducing the time spent on each of them and cutting down the number of participants required to make the process run efficiently.
All blocks on a blockchain are time-stamped and linked to a previous transaction. This makes it more secure than all other data or record-storing solutions. The immutability of the blockchain infrastructure means that once a block of data is added to the chain, it cannot be altered. This makes it hard for anyone to hack or falsify information.
Once a string of data is added to the blockchain, there is a record of where it originated. This further improves security by highlighting the origin of every transaction or data added to the chain. The enhanced traceability can be used in many ways, including verifying data origins, safe conduct of exchanges, and ownership verification.
These advantages are why the blockchain technology is now a part of the IoT-security discussion.
Over the last few years, there have been several incidents highlighting the IoT-security challenge. Some of these are covered below:
Many smart appliances connected to the internet have the same computing power and functionality you’d see in the everyday smartphone or tablet. This means hijackers can control them.
In 2014, a smart refrigerator was hijacked without the owners finding out. The controllers used the refrigerator to send thousands of spam emails. In the same vein, IoT devices can be forcefully included in a botnet in a bid to run a coordinated distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. From webcams to baby monitors, there is no limit to the devices that can be targeted in this elaborate process.
An unsecured IoT device can leak an internet protocol (IP) address. Hackers can use this information to find residential or commercial addresses. When a hacker has uncovered a physical address, they can proceed to act on it themselves or sell the information to the highest bidders (usually criminal outfits).
The threat of unsecured devices is a subtle problem that has plagued the IoT world for long. It is made worse by the fact that product manufacturers always ship with default login credentials, and do not commit to ensuring that users change them and secure their devices.
An advanced persistent threat (APTs) is a targeted cyber-attack where the cyber attacker gains illegal access to a network but remains dormant for long periods. During this time, they can monitor network activity or steal crucial data. The large volume of data shared across devices in an IoT environment is always at risk from this type of attack.
As driverless cars and trucks gradually become popular, there is an ever-present risk of these vehicles getting hijacked remotely. Although manufacturers are working hard to fight this, they haven’t been able to eliminate the threat.
In the last few years, ransomware attacks have become common. The attacker deploys malware that encrypts data critical for running business operations, and request for a ransom before the data is decrypted. The overall process is highly sophisticated, but attackers only need the smallest possible loopholes to gain access and carry out these attacks. Vulnerable IoT devices like thermostats are the usual entry-points.
According to documents released by WikiLeaks, intelligence communities around the world can record public conversations secretly. They can do this, by leveraging on zero-day exploits in IoT devices, personal computers, smartphones, and laptops.
Unfortunately, cyber-criminals can also gain access to these exploits and use them to spy on IoT users. They can hack a smart camera or the microphone in a computer to record activities in or around any environment of interest to them. These privacy violations remain a concern today.
IoT systems today generally run on a distributed client/server model where an administrator is required to manage the network. The connected devices rely on this central network to determine how they will behave. This central hub is usually the main target of IoT related cyber-attacks.
Once there’s a security breach at the central authority, the information sent by smart devices can be intercepted easily by hackers. This is why most of the cyber-attacks in IoT target this vulnerability.
The use of blockchain technology to decentralize the IoT network will take away most of its security concerns. Decentralization will make the IoT network more scalable, autonomous, and protected against most of the common attack points.
Since it is based on cryptography, blockchain technology can be used to coordinate millions of smart devices and transmit data across points securely. Additionally, blockchain makes it easy to record transactions in an orderly manner, allowing seamless documentation of the overall history and network activities of any connected device.
With a decentralized IoT setup using blockchain technology, individual nodes will become the only possible attack points for hackers trying to gather data forcefully.
Even this, will be difficult, as the decentralized setup makes it easy for smart devices to be designed to validate transactions and watch for predetermined acceptable behavior. Once an irregularity is flagged, it will be isolated. This will reduce the chances of sensitive data falling into the wrong hands.
Interactions on a blockchain network also have accountability encoded. Users need to have a unique key code to access the system, which means that all interactions are signed and traceable to the source. The network will prevent all unauthorized changes since the other nodes on the network will flag and reject the change.
Since blockchain transactions are transparent and traceable, combining it with IoT for essential processes in fields like pharmacy and agriculture can help reduce the chances of drug counterfeiting or improve the quality of farm produce. Mediledger and Pavo Marketplace are examples in this area.
Blockchain reduces the need for login credentials. Instead, all devices are designed with an encrypted identity that can only be verified by the network. This cuts down the chances of a security breach as a result of human error because all login activities are completed automatically by the decentralized system. All threats are tracked easily and reported instantly.
The blockchain technology creates a decentralized ledger and data records that cannot be changed. This helps to protect and control all communications occurring across the network. Once all information generated by IoT devices are completely protected, the chances of successful large-scale network attacks will be almost zero.
Telstra uses blockchain to store user data such as biometrics, voice recognition data, and facial recognition data to improve the security of its IoT-powered smart home solutions.
The supply chain management niche is continuously dealing with challenges such as instances of fake goods, illegalities surrounding the transportation of goods, inability to monitor transportation data, integrity of products, and more.
With IoT running on blockchain technology, products, and critical equipment in the supply chain management process are assigned digital IDs that can be used to monitor them. This will help reduce cases of fraud, counterfeiting, vendor dishonesty, etc. Combining blockchain and IoT is the best way to enhance the reliability and traceability of the overall supply chain.
An example of this is the collaboration between Golden State Foods and IBM.
With blockchain technology, all communications between connected devices can be monitored and recorded. With access to data on suspicious login attempts and activity logs, the network can be strengthened even further. Businesses that sell consumer IoT goods can use blockchain to make their products secure without requiring any input from the customers.
As regulations related to the development and use of IoT devices improve, the overall security of the system will benefit.
However, the deployment of blockchain technology will significantly speed up the arrival of a completely secure IoT world. Regardless of the IoT solution, blockchain technology can improve its security while delivering even better results by ensuring the privacy and protection of data and the removal of scalability challenges.
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