IoT (Internet of Things) technology comprises networks of connected devices embedded with sensors and software that enable them to transfer data. This emerging area of innovation is gradually redefining a wide range of industries from manufacturing to healthcare. The ability to gather real-time data brings a number of benefits for businesses, enabling them to automate processes, boost productivity and improve customer experiences. The number of IoT devices in action continues to grow, with Gartner* forecasting that there will be an astonishing 20.4 billion connected devices in use by 2020.1
“Using blockchain as the basis for IoT devices cuts the risk of hacking by reducing the potential points of entry”
However, one of the biggest challenges for those working with IoT technology is security — with every IoT device acting as a potential entry point for hackers. A breach could give away sensitive information on a massive scale, or leave IoT devices vulnerable to hijacking by hackers. This is what happened in 2016 when the infamous Mirai botnet took down numerous high profile sites including Twitter*, Airbnb* and Netflix*, by harnessing the power of around 100,000 unsecured IoT devices to carry out a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack.
The answer to IoT’s security problem could be blockchain. This transformative technology is a type of shared ledger, also known as a distributed ledger, and is probably best known as the basis for cryptocurrency Bitcoin. Blockchain technology automatically stores data across multiple locations, rather than keeping it in one central repository, making it more secure.
The result of combining these two influential technology trends is known as Blockchain Internet of Things or BIoT (though the term BIoT has previously been used to refer to Building Internet of Things or smart building technology). Using blockchain as the basis for IoT devices cuts the risk of hacking by reducing the potential points of entry. By scrapping a central authority in IoT networks, blockchain could enable these networks to protect themselves. IoT devices in a common group could automatically cease working or alert the user if they are asked to carry out any tasks that appear suspicious because they are outside of their usual remit. This would greatly reduce the risk of IoT devices being hijacked by hackers.
Along with reducing potential entry points for hackers, BIoT also offers an indisputable, tamper-proof record that makes it easy to track anything in the chain. Using encryption and distributed storage means that humans cannot overwrite records so it’s well-suited to businesses involved with finance, auditing or tracking a supply chain. This kind of transparency also makes blockchain ideal for smart contracts where an agreement can be automatically executed as soon as certain conditions are met, such as when a shipment is delivered. Blockchain technology could also be used in smart cities to secure devices such as connected streetlights.
There are already a number of initiatives aimed at developing blockchain for business. As well as offering hardware that can support blockchain technology, Intel has teamed up with JP Morgan* and Microsoft* along with dozens of other companies as part of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance* (EEA). The aim is to develop standards and technology to make it easier for businesses to use Ethereum*, a blockchain-based platform that enables businesses to use smart contracts.
And in 2016, Intel contributed its distributed ledger platform, Sawtooth Lake*, to the Hyperledger* project. Started by The Linux Foundation*, the project is a collaborative effort to advance blockchain technology in business and one of the key components of the initiative is a new Intel-powered modular platform called Hyperledger Sawtooth* which is designed to build, deploy, and run blockchain-based shared ledgers.
“Intel is committed to accelerating blockchain adoption through collaborations with industry thought leaders like Hyperledger and The Linux Foundation,” said Rick Echevarria, Vice President, Software and Services Group and General Manager, Platforms Security Division at Intel. “We are proud of our contributions and the advancements Hyperledger Sawtooth is making in privacy, security, and scalability which are critical enterprise requirements that will enable faster adoption of distributed ledger technology.”
While Intel technology is helping to prepare businesses for the blockchain revolution, it’s also likely that we’ll see more companies offering blockchain APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) in the near future. Designed for developers, APIs enable businesses to concentrate on fine-tuning their services, rather than spending time building the back-end technology that they run on. By making use of blockchain APIs, businesses can ensure the security of their IoT-based systems.
IoT security will be a major focus for businesses in 2018 and beyond. In fact, global spending on IoT security will reach $1.5 billion in 2018, a 28 percent increase from 2017, predicts Gartner.2 BIoT is likely to feature heavily in IoT security strategies in the coming months and years. The combination of blockchain and IoT could enable the latter to reach its full potential by minimising its inherent security risks, allowing organisations to explore innovative new business models.
*Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others