Inside Advanced Scale Challenges|Thursday, June 21, 2018
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IoT Developers Look to Blockchain for Security 

Securing the Internet of Things appears to have advanced well beyond default factory settings to include data and network security features baked into IoT components as well as comprehensive approaches such as blockchain cryptography.

The latest study by an IoT industry group found that data security along with network connectivity were key challenges as the technology moves from the concept to deployment phase. Complicating deployments is the need to balance network availability with data security, prompting some early adopters to consider security “tripwires” as they roll out IoT deployments.

The industry group IoT World reported this week that more than 70 percent of its members are designing security features into network devices. More than half are enforcing security policies.

Another emerging security approach would combine IoT with blockchain cryptography. The IoT survey found that 46 percent of respondents are considering blockchain technology to secure their IoT deployments. Along with data encryption, early investors are looking to the distributed ledger technology as a way to reduce security breaches.

These attributes are increasingly seen as a way of building user trust as the security flaws inherent in centralized systems are exposed on a nearly daily basis. The combination also highlights the potential for creating what one expert—Christian Catalini, an assistant professor at MIT—calls “a distributed marketplace and will enable new types of digital platforms.”

“The centralized enterprise security model is struggling to meet the demands of IoT, but blockchain’s decentralized nature offers [scale] with stronger data protections,” the IoT survey noted.

Blockchain technology was most frequently cited by IoT developers as a mechanism for preventing tampering and other malicious activities. First movers also are zeroing in on blockchain cryptography features that were initially designed to secure cryptocurrency. Distributed ledger capabilities that record and share transactions, for example, are seen as a way of instantaneously balancing the books while reducing overhead by eliminating banks or other intermediaries.

The hacking of IoT devices has underscored the requirement to design security features into components while pushing network intrusion detection out to the edge, vendors emphasize.

Devices makers have moved aggressively into the IoT security market as deployment momentum builds. For instance, chip intellectual property vendor Arm Ltd. launched an IoT security initiative last fall built around a “secure core” approach that seeks to provide security framework for the next wave of IoT devices.

Arm’s “on-die security” framework also incorporates data encryption as a replacement for vulnerable default passwords and certificate-based authentication.

The U.K. chip company launched a network security effort in February designed to bring machine learning capabilities to the network edge. Project Trillium includes a batch of scalable processors designed to deliver capabilities like object detection to edge devices.

These and other IoT security initiatives, including the integration of blockchain distributed ledgers, illustrates how IoT deployments are moving from early industrial to emerging enterprise roll outs.

“As the enterprise becomes increasingly serious about IoT investments, cross-sector collaboration and knowledge-sharing from early IoT deployment experiences will be what drives” adoption, predicted, Gavin Whitechurch, founder of IoT World.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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