Will Blockchain Be the Game Changer for Solving IoT Security Challenges? Why and How? (1/3)
Sep 13, 2017
This is part IV of our multi-part blog series on Blockchain – see part III here. Also, please view part III of our webinar series to learn more about how Juniper views this exciting new technology.
Blockchain, or distributed ledger technology (DLT), has become one of the hottest buzz words in recent years. With the rise of IoT (Internet of Things), many enthusiasts believe that Blockchain will be able to solve the security challenges for IoT. If you search on the web, you can find tons of statements like “Blockchain will revolutionize IoT Security”, “Blockchain can change the future of IoT”, “Blockchain will be ultimate game-changer for IoT security”, “Blockchain is the future of IoT”, etc. So it’s fair to ask, is it just hype? Or real? Why and how?
There’re already a lot of articles describing what Blockchain is. So instead, I’d like to spend some time to share my perspective on why I believe Blockchain holds great promises in addressing some of the fundamental security challenges of IoT – Why and How. I will address this with 3 blogs (to make it more readable to you) and this is the first one.
One thing that I noticed is that for someone who is new to Blockchain, it could be incredibly confusing when reading different research reports, blogs, and articles. It’s confusing because for different use cases, they actually leverage different attributes of Blockchain. So it’s worthwhile to take a moment to get back to the fundamentals - start with understanding what key attributes Blockchain has and how they could be useful for IoT security.
Attributes of Blockchain
Verifiable, Consensus-based. Every entity (a person, or an organization in a supply chain ecosystem for example) has visibility of the records on blockchain and can verify each record’s identity (for example, its public key information) and validate each transaction (could be financial or non-financial such as messaging). The way it accomplishes the verification and validation is by using consensus mechanism. Today, there’re multiple different consensus mechanisms for blockchain, depending on the choice of the blockchain implementation, public or private, and algorithm trade-off between speed and scale.
Immutable, Tamper-proof. Because of the way blockchain is structured for storing records, it’s immutable and tamper-proof. One block can hold a certain amount of records. Each block’s header contains the unique hashed information pointing to the previous block - Block(n+1) links to Block (n) …Block (3) links to Block (2), Block (2) links to Block (1). Block(1) is also called the Genesis Block, which every entity in the ecosystem has a copy of. With that, as you continue recording information, you’ll get a chain of blocks, which is why it’s called “blockchain”. Anyone who attempts to modify any data in any block, he/she would have to modify all the data on the chain all the way to the Genesis Block, which is not possible as everyone has a copy of it and will immediately notice the discrepancy and reject such attempt. To understand how this works more visually, I’d recommend you to check out this explainer video
Programmable, with Smart Contracts. Blockchain in itself as a distributed ledger technology, is not programmable. It’s simply like a database technology. But with smart contracts, which are scripts stored on the blockchain, it becomes much more powerful. It becomes programmable (for example, APIs for Ethereum), so developers can build blockchain-enabled applications.
Decentralized, No Single Point of Failure. By nature, blockchain is decentralized. Think about Bitcoin as an example. There’s no central authority that controls the coin distribution. Everyone has a copy of the records. So while for a bank, if it gets hacked, the impact would be disastrous; for Bitcoin or in general, blockchain-enabled cryptocurrency or applications, the overall system is much robust and reliable as there’s no single point of failure. By design, decentralized is more secure than centralized from an architecture standpoint.
In my next blog (2/3) for this Blockchain and IoT security blog mini-series, I will explain what IoT security use cases blockchain can address via which attributes and in the following blog (3/3), I will share what security issues or challenges blockchain has that you should be aware of.