Blockchain technology, which is making the news most prominently for the bitcoin digital currency, is being embraced by some users of radio frequency identification (RFID) and other Internet of Things (IoT) technologies as a way to share, store and analyze sensor data on a public ledger. Because the cost of storing data on many blockchains is high, the IoT data may be stored off-chain, with data being written to the blockchain, to provide consensus verifying that the off-chain data is valid and to provide the data has not been tampered with.
One company, Atonomi Network, aims to provide the platform to enable a public blockchain for the IoT industry. The firm offers a crypto-security protocol to enable trust and identity validation between IoT devices. The service, Atonomi says, acts as an intersection between blockchain and the IoT.
Blockchain, developed for bitcoin applications, enables public ledgers of those cryptocurrency transactions, but also offers a variety of applications for the IoT. Rather than exchanging currency for purchases, for instance, blockchain could securely store sensor or RFID tag read data, encrypted for security, and share that information only with authorized parties. That could make IoT-based data safe from hackers, the company explains.
The advantage for the Internet of Things is twofold, according to Bill McBeath, the chief research officer at ChainLink Research. It offers validation based on a consensus, among all blockchain parties, that the data is consistent with what should be expected, and that it is immutable—once the data is captured and stored, it cannot be changed. That provides an un-tamperable guarantee that the data is accurate, McBeath says, adding that without something like blockchain, any wireless transmission could potentially be open to hacks.
“All it takes is one weak link in the chain for hackers to begin an exploit,” McBeath says. “Building very strong security in some areas, while doing very little in others—such as protecting against social engineering—is an invitation to trouble.” Provided there is a sufficient level of participation in the consensus process validating the data as it is written, a blockchain would ensure that data remains secure and is highly resistant to hacking, he notes, due to its immutable nature.
There are still limitations, however, in terms of speed and efficiency. The validation process for each transaction can consume time and energy, McBeath says. The data must be shared with others, and the approved players on the platform help to confirm the validity of the data capture, which takes time and processing energy. The consensus process—and thus the cost and performance of writing to the blockchain—varies widely across different types of blockchain technologies. What’s more, a means to properly share secure data has not been fully defined. In these early days of blockchain technology, says David Fragale, Atonomi’s co-founder, “There are major vulnerabilities as the volume of data continues to grow in disparate data stacks.”