A famous Tex Avery cartoon from 1949 depicts ‘The House of Tomorrow”, where autonomous devices anticipate your needs and act on them with preternatural alacrity and competence. Here and in similar satires of the time, the gag ends up being that your so-called futuristic appliances just as often turn on each other and you, leading to domestic chaos.
More than a half century later, the Internet of Things (IoT) has effected this prophecy more accurately than many could have anticipated. While home assistants like Alexa have become an outright fiscal and cultural phenomenon, the other side of the coin isn’t quite so shiny. In 2016, the internet itself was cowed by a bot-network stitched together from thousands of compromised IoT devices. And, if that wasn’t disturbing enough, experts predict another, more powerful, zombie network is on the horizon. The consequences are looking more dire than those of the rampaging toasters in the old cartoons.
Does this mean we need to implement rigorous security protocols for all internet connected gadgets, even ones as anodyne as your smart hairbrush? Well, perhaps, but there’s a another solution already at our fingertips, one that doesn’t involve more government regulation.
A Digital Data Vault
IoT devices can literally save your life – consider a pacemaker that sends data to another device that, at first sign of trouble, dispatches an ambulance automatically to your location. But how to make sure this sensitive data is secure? That’s where the blockchain comes in. Data can be encrypted, preventing any authorized access, and the blockchain’s distributed nature means that any attempt to alter it would meet with failure. Even if one copy is tampered with, it would only need to connect to the other versions of itself in order to reset to the correct version. Its design also means that an unfathomable amount of computing power would be necessary to break into and alter even one ‘link’ on the chain, for it would require changing every previous ‘link’ as well.
Solving for the Future
The benefits of the blockchain extend past data management. During the prototyping period of a new device, the blockchain could store any sensitive IP information, accessible only to those with the necessary clearance, preventing IP theft. This would be especially valuable when it comes to IoT devices that work with power plants, water treatment facilities, and other areas of national security. This applies to consumer devices as well. Whether accidental or otherwise, alarming security flaws have been discovered in mass-market products. Recently, an Android mobile device was found to be collecting private user information and sending it to third parties without permission. It’s hard to say how common these kinds of stories are, but with the blockchain this flaw could have been headed off at the pass during the manufacturing process. By fulfilling the terms of smart contracts on a step-by-step basis, a company can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that their product has met exacting security standards. Not only does this boost consumer and investor confidence, but it streamlines the regulatory process as an added bonus.
There’s no reason we can’t integrate the blockchain into every IoT device – it’s certainly more cost effective than sending reams of data to a centralized server bank, and as the number of nodes continues to grow, it will only become safer. While the benefits are most tangible when it comes to sensitive devices such as those in the medical field, there’s no reason we shouldn’t want our own Houses of Tomorrow to perform flawlessly.