The Internet of Things (IoT) technology has taken the world by storm. From smart homes and wearables to connected cars and fitness trackers, IoT devices are becoming prevalent across various industries and aspects of daily life.
There are approximately 15.14 billion connected IoT devices in 2023, and this number is expected to grow to around 29.42 billion by 2030. While this rapid growth and connectivity offer numerous benefits, they also bring severe security challenges. IoT devices are attractive targets for hackers looking to infiltrate systems and steal personal information.
Therefore, it is crucial that robust security measures are implemented. This is where blockchain technology comes in. Integrating blockchain technology into Internet of Things networks is an extremely promising approach to enhance security.
In this article, we will explore how this combination can address key security concerns.
Internet of Things, or IoT, refers to a network of interconnected, sensor-equipped physical devices that can collect, exchange, and act upon data.
For example, a smart thermostat can connect to the internet to receive weather updates and adjust your home’s temperature automatically. Meanwhile, a retail store using IoT sensors to track customer movement and browsing behavior within the store helps with gathering real-time data, which can be used to enhance their revenue marketing efforts.
Other examples include smart appliances that can be controlled from your phone, fitness trackers that monitor your activity levels, and even self-driving cars that can sense information about the environment.
While IoT provides increased efficiency, automation, and remote monitoring and control, it also raises concerns about security, privacy, and dependency on technology. Further, these networks can have millions of access points and endpoints, making them hard to secure using traditional methods, like firewalls, encryptions, and VPNs.
Understanding Blockchain Technology
Blockchain is a secure and decentralized digital ledger that records transactions across multiple computers, ensuring transparency and preventing tampering. It is primarily used in cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, where it enables secure and transparent transactions without the need for intermediaries like banks.
Beyond cryptocurrencies, blockchain finds applications in various industries such as supply chain management, where it enhances transparency and traceability of goods. It’s also used in healthcare to secure patient records and in smart contracts to automate and enforce agreements without the need for third parties.
In a nutshell, blockchain’s decentralized approach enables trust and transparency without requiring third-party verification — making it a groundbreaking technology for many industries.
Security Challenges of IoT
According to the Nokia Threat Intelligence Report 2023, the number of IoT devices involved in DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks surged five-fold over the past year.
The report provides details about the types of attacks, which include:
- 60% of attacks were aimed to disrupt websites and online services
- 30% were focused on stealing sensitive information from victims
- 10% were ransomware attacks for financial gains
The increasing number of hackers using unsecured IoT devices to launch attacks shows we have a big problem to fix. Before understanding how blockchain technology can improve IoT security, it’s important to first understand the core security challenges exploiting IoT devices today. Some of these are:
1. Weak Passwords
Many IoT devices come with default passwords that pose a major security threat. Purchasers may not realize the importance of changing them which makes the device vulnerable to hacking. Cybercriminals can easily crack these passwords, get access to your IoT devices, and steal your sensitive data.
2. Lack of Regular Security Updates
Regular security updates keep IoT devices safe from digital intruders. However, many IoT devices, like smart cameras or thermostats, lack regular, timely updates. They don’t receive the necessary fixes and improvements to protect against new hacking methods. Without these updates, they remain vulnerable to hackers who can access or control them, potentially causing harm or privacy breaches.
3. Lack of Privacy
IoT devices often collect a wealth of personal information without the user’s consent — from daily routines to sensitive details, like personal information and location data. Without adequate safeguards, this information can be misused or exposed, putting your privacy at risk.
4. Ransomware Attacks
Ransomware attacks in IoT are like digital hijackings. These involve malicious software that can take control of your IoT devices. Once compromised, these devices can be locked or manipulated by cybercriminals, who then demand a ransom in exchange for the decryption key needed to unlock the device. Not only can this disrupt essential services, but it also puts users’ safety at risk.
5. Botnet Attacks
A botnet is created when a hacker infects hundreds or even millions of connected IoT devices with malware. The hacked IoT devices come under the control of the hacker, who can control the botnet and launch cyberattacks from it. For example, hackers can overload websites with traffic to take them down. Or they can use the botnet to transmit spam, steal data, or launch other malicious activities on a massive scale.
6. Lack of Standardization
There are no common security standards across the many different IoT devices and systems. Since different companies build IoT devices using various technologies and protocols, a wide variety of devices with inconsistent security makes protecting them much harder.
Key Benefits of Combining IoT and Blockchain Technology
IoT generates huge amounts of valuable data, but it suffers from security vulnerabilities. Blockchain, on the other hand, offers robust security features, but it needs extensive data to function optimally. Combining these two technologies allows them to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Here are various advantages that blockchain offers in enhancing the security of IoT devices:
Unlike centralized systems, blockchain operates on a decentralized network of computers. This means that instead of depending on central authorities for device authentication, blockchain assigns a unique, encrypted digital ID to each device. These IDs are verifiable through digital signatures and smart contracts, making it nearly impossible for attackers to impersonate users or take over the entire system.
2. Secure Communication
Blockchain uses encryption techniques to create private, secure communication channels between IoT devices that safeguard sensitive information from tampering attempts by cybercriminals. Whether it’s transmitting critical healthcare data, customer information, or financial transactions — these robust authentication and encryption systems provide a shield of protection, ensuring the confidentiality of data as it travels between IoT devices.
3. Immutable Ledger
An immutable ledger in blockchain means a record-keeping system where the recorded data cannot be changed, deleted, or edited in any way. This means the data from IoT devices is permanently recorded on the ledger and any change to information is visible to all participants on the blockchain network. Further, this log identifies and stops unauthorized or tampering access on IoT devices, which protects IoT devices and networks against potential threats and malicious activities.
4. Reduced Costs
Blockchain eliminates third-party intermediaries and manual interventions, cutting down on infrastructure and labor costs. This allows IoT devices to securely interact with each other directly on a peer-to-peer network, making the process faster and cheaper in the long run. Plus, it reduces the risk of fraud, saving even more money.
To further enhance IoT security, utilizing a CAASM model can help. CAASM, or Cyber Asset Attack Surface Management, is an emerging technology that helps organizations identify the various ports, services, endpoints, and applications exposed on IoT devices that attackers could use as entry points. Plus, it monitors every IoT device to ensure they’re well-maintained, upgraded, and continuously compliant with security policies and regulations.
Use Cases of IoT and Blockchain
Now, let’s explore some real-life uses of combining blockchain technology with IoT devices:
1. Supply Chain Management
Blockchain technology can enhance the traceability and transparency of supply chains when integrated with IoT devices. IoT sensors on products can track the movement and condition of goods in real time. This data is recorded on a blockchain, creating an immutable ledger of all supply chain activities.
Stakeholders at every stage of the supply chain can access this real-time data, improving transparency in the entire process. This further prevents fraud and ensures the authenticity of products.
2. Self-Driving Vehicles
Combining blockchain technology with IoT sensors and devices offers significant advantages for self-driving vehicles. Each self-driving car can have a unique digital identity registered on the blockchain, enabling it to securely communicate with other cars, traffic signals, road infrastructure, and regulatory authorities. Further, it ensures that the data generated by these vehicles, such as sensor data, GPS information, and vehicle performance metrics is tamper-proof.
This allows self-driving vehicles to operate securely and seamlessly in smart transportation systems. And, in the event of an accident involving a self-driving car, IoT sensors can automatically record and timestamp critical data, which can come in handy while resolving disputes in case of insurance claims and investigations.
3. Smart Cities
IoT devices can collect and transmit vast amounts of data about various urban infrastructure systems, such as transportation, energy consumption, public safety, and waste management.
Blockchain’s secure and decentralized platform can protect, manage, and share this data among multiple stakeholders. This enables efficient resource allocation, improved urban planning, and enhanced public services, ultimately leading to more sustainable and livable cities.
IoT devices, such as wearable fitness trackers and medical sensors, collect patients’ health data. Storing this data on a blockchain ensures that it remains secure and tamper-proof, reducing the risk of data breaches and unauthorized access.
Further, blockchain serves as a standardized platform for securely sharing a patient’s medical records across different healthcare providers. This promotes improved diagnostics, personalized treatments, and more efficient healthcare delivery.
From safeguarding personal information in smart homes to ensuring the reliability of self-driving cars and enhancing the efficiency of smart cities, the partnership between blockchain and IoT is driving innovation across various industries.
Enterprises should strongly consider leveraging blockchain security to address some of the most pressing security challenges of their IoT devices. Not only can it improve the security of the IoT ecosystem, but it can also reinforce trust among users and stakeholders.
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