March 20, 2018

The Internet of Things (IoT) was a fixture in the news last year. While most of that press was positive, one negative area was security vulnerabilities (remember when IoT devices became part of a botnet that took down DNS servers?). Some progress has been made, but there’s a lot more work to be done.

We asked Kevin Curran, IEEE Senior member and Professor of Cybersecurity at Ulster University in Northern Ireland about what might be next for securing the IoT. He sees potential help coming from another trending technology: blockchain.

How would that work? Well, securing the IoT from a central service doesn’t seem particularly realistic, and blockchain is a rising star in distributed security. Curran believes “Blockchain technology could potentially allow billions of connected IoT devices to communicate in a secure yet decentralized ecosystem which also allows consumer data to remain private.”

Since blockchain has a solid cryptographic foundation, there’s more potential for us to feel that our IoT data is a bit safer from tampering. Plus, it’s not just theoretical; Curran says, “There are already blockchain-based IoT frameworks [with] layers of access to keep out unauthorized devices from the network.”

Of course, security is never without its challenges. With advanced cryptography, speed is a major hurdle. “Another potential roadblock to blockchain and IoT is that most IoT devices have a limited memory size, limited battery life along with restricted processors.” The vast majority of today’s IoT devices don’t have the requisite sensors to start running heavy cryptography, and may simply be too underpowered to be part of a blockchain.

Where does that leave us? On one hand, the hardware demands of integrating the two technologies are significant, and that could drive device prices beyond what consumers are willing to pay. If that can be overcome, their potential union could enable distributed, secure, machine-to-machine interactions with features like automated device verification and price negotiation that have been sought after for years.

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