mgineer Blog

IoT World: From IoT Patterns to Blockchain Security

June 13, 2017

Christine Young By: Christine Young
Blogger, Maxim Integrated 

Industry projections call for 50 billion connected devices by 2020, but 2 out of 3 internet of things (IoT) projects fail, noted Tony Shan, chief IoTologist at Wipro Technologies, during a talk at this year’s IoT World conference in Santa Clara, California. 

"The picture is not so promising," Shan told his audience at the event’s IoT Developer Stage. "There are a lot of reasons. We have more than 400 platforms in the IoT space and, talk about standards, there are more than 100 in this area." 

Citing survey results, Shan notes that the top three reasons companies develop IoT products are to: 

  • Improve quality of service or products
  • Enhance workforce productivity
  • Increase operations reliability

However, barriers ranging from disjointed platforms to IT environment complexity to proprietary products and fragmented implementations are hindering success. This is where an IoT pattern framework can help. A pattern can address specific requirements, such as security or data analytics. You could also combine multiple patterns to solve a tough problem. The benefit of IoT patterns, Shan explained, is to facilitate a repeatable solution and have a common baseline for describing and implementing a solution versus building it all from scratch. The process involves a methodical approach, looking for common seeds to uncover best practices to tackle problems. Design concerns are classified, and the pattern structure informs ways to address these concerns. 

The IoT pattern structure is broken down into:

  • Category: groups of classifications
  • Area: stage breakdown in the IoT pipeline
  • Type: kind of IoT solution

These areas are further broken down into these segments:

  • BATS: business, application, technology, service
  • CUBS: creational, universal, behavioral, structural (classifying different ways to look at patterns)
  • SCAD: sensing, connection, analysis, delivery 

Securing the IoT via the Blockchain

Shan could only scratch the surface of IoT patterning in his half-hour talk. He did mention briefly a couple of top challenges of IoT designs: security and privacy. Security was a key focus in the next talk on the IoT Developer Stage. Members of the Trusted IoT Alliance discussed their efforts to use the blockchain to secure IoT applications. Blockchain, secured via advanced cryptography, provides a tamper-proof distributed record of transactions; it’s maintained by a network of computers on the internet. An underlying technology for bitcoin, the Alliance is developing a shared blockchain protocol to secure IoT products. In April, the group, comprised of five enterprises and six startups, launched an IoT "thing" registration API that supports several blockchain implementations. Users can register serial numbers, QR codes, and UPC code identities and bind them to stronger cryptographic identities. Blockchain technology is used to immutably link these cryptographic identities across digital and physical worlds.

This blockchain flowchart conveys the concept of this tamper-proof method to secure online transactions. The Trusted IoT Alliance believes that the blockchain can also be used to secure IoT applications.

"From IT infrastructure to operational infrastructure, software on distributed systems can be fingerprinted elements within the blockchain system," noted Anoop Nannra, a technology strategist in Cisco's Corporate Strategic Innovation Group.

Joe Pindar, director of product strategy at Gemalto, emphasized the mutual trust that blockchain technology can bring to internet-based transactions. In the blockchain, all of the players are equal in this environment, and the data is real and trusted by all. By contrast, in a hierarchical approach, he said, the smaller guys don't always trust the bigger players. Zaki Manian, a founder of Skuchain, added that conventionally, we don't trust IoT devices to make business decisions, like exercising a letter of credit or releasing a payment. However, with the blockchain, control of business decisions can be delegated to secured IoT devices, he said. Manian noted that blockchain also solves the problem of identity, particularly in industrial applications where a connected device (like a shipping container) gets passed from one organization to another. With the blockchain, each organization doesn't have to reprovision the ID for the shipping container each time it changes hands. This can be done when the silicon is manufactured, a much more efficient approach. 

Allliance members believe that the blockchain can enable the next level of the IoT, facilitating trusted data sharing and transactions between connected things. They anticipate greater efficiencies and reduced cost of doing business. One example is the Share&Charge charging station network in Germany, which brings together owners of charging stations and electric vehicle (EV) drivers to expand the country's charging infrastructure. Another example is the secondary car market, where the blockchain can make it easier to reliably validate data like vehicle mileage or the health of the EV battery.

Rather than reinventing the wheel, the panelists noted, the blockchain can provide a common identifier for connected devices and a means to build solutions on top of this.