Blockchain enthusiast developer and writer. My telegram: ksshilov
The internet of things, IoT, has been a dream of tech lovers for as long as tech lovers have been around. The idea that you can control your entire home with your voice, or the swipe of your finger, is something straight out of science fiction movies. As we move closer and closer to this becoming a reality, we start to realize that there are some huge hurdles we have to overcome before we can fully implement the internet of things. Blockchain technology will play a huge role in overcoming those hurdles, and as we usher in a new age of smart homes we’ll definitely be thankful for the added security and peace of mind. According to Techcrunch.com, more than a quarter of adults in the US own a smart speaker — never has it been more important for blockchain technology to be seriously considered for a rapidly growing industry.
To understand why the internet of things needs blockchain technology to make it more secure, first we need to understand exactly what role the IoT plays in the modern smart home. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a smart home is “a home equipped with lighting, heating, and electronic devices that can be controlled remotely by phone or computer.” In the future this may mean that your toaster can load itself with bread, your fridge will tell you when you are running low on milk, and your lights automatically dim themselves when you sit down to watch a movie.
Smarthomes will make our lives easier, that is for sure, but without the proper security measures, they will also make our lives controllable by outsiders. As the old saying goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, smart homes are only as strong as their weakest appliance. In order for a smart home to talk to itself, and you, it needs to rely on the Internet of Things to form a network with each individual appliance, you, and the internet. This internal network that controls all of the smart gadgets in your home is known as the Internet of Things, and it is extremely important that the IoT be as secure as possible. This is where blockchain comes into the equation.
There are four crucial points in IoT technology that are susceptible to problems, as the technology currently stands. These four challenges are the costs/capacity constraints, inherent bottleneck architecture, reliance on the cloud, and the possibility of manipulation from outside forces. Let’s take each of these points one by one to see exactly how blockchain can help alleviate some of the major problems.
Because of the speed at which IoT devices are being released, the dependency on a central entity to manage all of them will have to handle a heavier and heavier burden over time. This means that brownouts and internet slowdowns, in general, will have huge impacts on IoT functionality. Instead, integrating blockchain tech into IoT systems to allow them to work together without contacting a central authority can alleviate some of the overall bandwidth burdens.
Inherent bottleneck architecture
Each piece of the IoT is essentially a bottleneck and a point of failure for the entire network, and the appliance with the weakest security could compromise the entire network if hacked. Instead, secure messaging between devices that require a device’s identity to be verified and signed cryptographically, against a blockchain, can help ensure that all messages between devices are authentic.
Reliance on the cloud
Cloud servers sometimes go down due to hacks, software glitches, power issues, and more. If IoT devices operate through a cloud instead of a reliance on a central authority, these types of outages wouldn’t be able to stem from one point of failure - the cloud.
Manipulation from outside forces
Information that is intercepted by outsiders is likely to be manipulated or abused. By switching to decentralized access (to remove a single point of entry for a hacker) and relying on an immutable blockchain, malicious software can be more quickly identified and removed. If all devices are verifying a blockchain against one another, simple consensus would help rule out nefarious software when a system-wide update was completed (aka a block being processed).
To summarize: appliances on the Internet of Things need to talk with one another to operate efficiently. Your smart light needs to know that you entered the house before turning on, it does this by talking to your phone to find out if you’ve crossed over a geofence and into your home. All of these small conversations are potentially vulnerable to hackers, both hoping to listen in and snoop private data from you, as well as directly interact with your smart home devices in a negative way (think: opening your smart door locks).
In a research paper titled “On blockchain and its integration with IoT. Challenges and opportunities,” researchers pointed out that...
“IoT can join forces with blockchain in many scenarios... [m]any applications that digitize the world by providing sensed data can be enriched with blockchain technology. It can help to increase data legitimacy or reliability and moreover provide distributed identity, authentication and authorization mechanisms without the need for central authorities.”
These researchers went on to test many existing blockchains to see how they could interact with the Internet of Things, coming to a conclusion that most of us probably already knew: the Bitcoin blockchain isn’t meant to handle the IoT, but specially designed blockchains may be great for it.
Smart homes are more than just the smart speaker you have on top of the fridge that you use to listen to music while cooking. Smart homes are, instead, a conglomerate of appliances all talking to one another, learning your habits and routines, and helping make your life more seamless. Ideally, smart homes turn the lights on when you get home, pause your music to tell you that the roast in the oven has reached the appropriate temperature, and give you weather data on your bathroom mirror while you’re brushing your teeth. These smart homes anticipate your needs and give you the information you need, when you need it, all at the control of your voice.
According to Statisa.com, ‘Control and Connectivity’ is the leading category for all smart home device types. Other competing categories include ‘Home Entertainment’ (smart TVs), ‘Smart Appliances’ (wifi enabled ovens), ‘Energy Management’ (smart water heaters), ‘Comfort and Lighting’ (smart thermostats), and ‘Security’ (video and wifi enabled doorbells). Obviously, these categories extend past the most obvious examples, but it is interesting to note that ‘Control and Connectivity’ seem to be the most important aspect of smart homes for modern users in the US.
People are interested in having the IoT enrich their lives, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to integrate smart home products into places like your shower or sink faucets to ensure they always deliver the ideal temperature. As Sean Hayes of Hausera points out, “48% of homeowners said they plan on buying ‘smart’ products for their kitchen, bathroom or laundry room in the next year.”
Are you one of them?
Maybe you’ve never dabbled in smart home devices, but chances are you already own a smartphone and carry it around in your pocket. Smart home devices take the extremely useful features of your smartphone and extend them to your home, instead of leaving them in your pocket. Research data from the end of last year points out that the smart home market was valued at around $55 billion in 2016, a number expected to grow more than three times by 2025, to around $174 billion. But this market will continue to see setbacks unless clear technological problems can be fixed. The implementation of blockchain technology into existing IoT systems may be the quickest and easiest way to solve these issues. In an age of continual data breaches and major personal information leaks, the last thing we need is for our smart homes to fall into the control of nefarious hackers while we are at work — something that blockchain security protocols would make far, far more difficult.