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Where Blockchain Meets the Internet of Things

Secure digital ledgers provide a layer of protection for IoT devices and the data they generate.

The Internet of Things holds incredible promise, from the cost savings afforded by facilities management sensors to the data-rich insights organizations can glean from connected devices. Even better, we’ve barely scratched the surface of what a mature, sophisticated IoT landscape will eventually look like.

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But these advances often come with a risk — for now, anyway. Security has been a significant challenge for IoT devices, and we’ve already seen plenty of unfortunate cases where hackers have used connected devices to gain unauthorized network access.

Consider a food manufacturing environment, where a connected thermometer monitors temperatures in pipes or storage containers and communicates with the Wi-Fi network so it can send that data to a database. If the device is not properly secured, a hacker could interrogate the thermometer to discover credentials that enable access to the network, or even to upload instructions that would leverage the thermometer to deliver a virus.

Organizations could use blockchain to close these vulnerabilities, adding a layer of security to make IoT devices less susceptible to exploitation.

Blockchain Can Add Security Validations to Connected Devices

A blockchain is a digital ledger, a continually expanding set of blocks that serves as a secure, validated record of transactions, credentials or other types of entries.

Much like an independent auditor who puts an official stamp of approval on a set of information, a blockchain stands on the authority of consensus. Organizational systems validate each new block before it is added to the chain. That validation is essentially an agreement that the record is accurate and trustworthy.

One of the biggest ways blockchain can improve security is by providing a type of check-in for IoT devices to ensure everything is in order. Because blockchain itself is tamper-proof thanks to powerful encryption, it adds a defensive layer to prevent anyone from compromising connected devices.

For example, a sensor might look to the blockchain to determine if it is using the latest firmware and, if not, it could then perform an automatic update. A device could validate, through the blockchain, that it is on the correct network. These tactics make it much more difficult for someone to take control of those devices to steer them in the wrong direction.

IoT Security Leads to More Trusted, Valuable Data

Consider the value of blockchain security in an application such as a supply chain, where IoT devices can provide a wealth of information as materials and products travel from point A to point B. A refrigerated truck shipping pharmaceutical products, outfitted with IoT-managed temperature tracking, will generate a continuous stream of data transactions throughout its journey, such as temperature averages and fluctuations. These are important for the manufacturer to ensure the integrity and efficacy of the product has not been compromised.

Blockchain also provides a layer of security and integrity over data. After all, if data-driven insights are the desired outcome for an IoT initiative, which is true for many organizations, users must be able to trust the data. Without proper IoT security, the data itself is suspect.

Blockchain is still coming into its own, as is the IoT. But as they mature, look for solutions that pair them together — it’s a way to make two emerging technologies even more powerful.