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IoT and Blockchain Convergence

The Internet of Things (IoT) as a concept is fascinating and exciting, but one of the major challenging aspects of IoT is having a secure ecosystem encompassing all building blocks of IoT-architecture.

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Understanding the different building blocks of IoT, identifying the areas of vulnerability in each block and exploring technologies needed to counter each of the weaknesses are essential in dealing with the security issue of IoT.

Figure 1: IoT Architecture

IoT architecture can be represented by four building blocks:

  •     Things: These are defined as uniquely identifiable nodes, primarily sensors that communicate without human interaction using different connectivity methods.
  •    Gateways: These act as intermediaries between things and the cloud to provide the needed connectivity, security, and manageability.
  •    Network infrastructure: This is comprised of routers, aggregators, gateways, repeaters and other devices that control and secure data flow.
  •    Cloud infrastructure: Cloud infrastructure contains large pools of virtualized servers and storage that are networked together with computing and analytical capabilities.

Challenges to secure IoT deployments

Existing security technologies will play a role in mitigating IoT risks but they are not enough. The goal is to get data securely to the right place, at the right time, in the right format. It’s easier said than done for many reasons, and here is a list of some of the challenges:

  •  Many IoT Systems are poorly designed and implemented, using diverse protocols and technologies that create complex and sometimes conflicting configurations.
  •  Limited guidance for life cycle maintenance and management of IoT devices
  •  IoT privacy concerns are complex and not always readily evident.
  •  There is a lack of standards for authentication and authorization of IoT edge devices.
  •  Security standards, for platform configurations, involving virtualized IoT platforms supporting multi-tenancy is immature.
  •  The uses for Internet of Things technology are expanding and changing—often in uncharted waters.

In addition to the above list, new security technologies will be required to protect IoT devices and platforms from both information attacks and physical tampering, to encrypt their communications, and to address new challenges such as impersonating “things” or denial-of-sleep attacks that drain batteries, to denial-of-service attacks (DoS). But IoT security will be complicated by the fact that many “things” use simple processors and operating systems that may not support sophisticated security approaches.

A prime example of the urgent need for such new security technologies is the recent massive distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) that crippled the servers of popular services like Twitter, Netflix, NYTimes, and PayPal across the U.S. on October 21st, 2016. It was the result of an immense assault that involved millions of internet addresses and malicious software. One source of the traffic for the attacks was devices infected by the Mirai malware. The attack comes amid heightened cybersecurity fears and a rising number of internet security breaches. All indications suggest that countless IoT devices that power everyday technology like closed-circuit cameras and smart-home devices were hijacked by the malware, and used against the servers.

The problem with the current centralized model

Current IoT ecosystems rely on centralized, brokered communication models, otherwise known as the server/client paradigm. All devices are identified, authenticated and connected through cloud servers that sport huge processing and storage capacities. Connections between devices have to exclusively go through the internet, even if they happen to be a few feet apart.

While this model has connected generic computing devices for decades and will continue to support small-scale IoT networks as we see them today, it will not be able to respond to the growing needs of the huge IoT ecosystems of tomorrow.

Existing IoT solutions are expensive because of the high infrastructure and maintenance cost associated with centralized clouds, large server farms, and networking equipment. The sheer amount of communications that will have to be handled when there are tens of billions of IoT devices will increase those costs substantially.

Even if the unprecedented economic and engineering challenges are overcome, cloud servers will remain a bottleneck and point of failure that can disrupt the entire network.

Decentralizing IoT networks

A decentralized approach to IoT networking would solve many of the issues above. Adopting a standardized peer-to-peer communication model to process the hundreds of billions of transactions between devices will significantly reduce the costs associated with installing and maintaining large centralized data centers and will distribute computation and storage needs across the billions of devices that form IoT networks. This will prevent failure in any single node in a network from bringing the entire network to a halting collapse….

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