How the Blockchain Can Improve IoT Security
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a term used to describe connected devices and digital components that can perform tasks and transmit data without human assistance. These devices make human lives easier and may include computer networks, smart thermostats, smartphones or security systems. It’s predicted that by 2021, there will be 35 billion IoT devices installed throughout the world and the industrial IoT market size will reach $124 billion.
While IoT technology is convenient for everyday life, education and business productivity, it doesn’t come without its disadvantages. There are several security concerns associated with IoT technology—including unsecured networks, weak passwords and the use of outdated components—detailed below.
With security regulations still slowly emerging in response to public adoption of the technology, IoT can pose a threat for consumers and businesses alike. However, blockchain technology may be able to address some of these IoT security concerns for consumers and businesses.
What Are the Security Challenges of the Internet of Things?
The latest IoT technology addresses a number of issues in the consumer and business spaces. While these devices include advanced automated features and data analysis, there are still pertinent security issues and concerns associated with these networks.
Lack of Updates from IoT Manufacturers
If there’s one thing that’s constant about the field of cybersecurity, it’s change. Since attackers are always looking for new vulnerabilities with any technology, manufacturers must provide software updates to combat these security weaknesses. However, the public demands innovative technology, so it’s a rush for these IoT manufacturers to release new products, which can lead to a lack of security testing.
When an IoT manufacturer doesn’t implement a software update strategy for IoT technology, users are vulnerable to unpatched embedded operating systems and poor security monitoring, leaving these systems exposed to intruders. Without the proper updates to address these security concerns, data collected through IoT devices are available to anyone who discovers and/or exploits them, especially if these IoT devices are counterfeit.
Not only are counterfeit IoT devices manufactured inexpensively, but they’re also specifically designed to poke holes in network security. This weak network allows for malicious acts of data mining and spying within the IoT network.
Lack of Consumer Awareness
Even if the IoT technology manufacturer stays on top of software updates to address security issues, consumers must also be aware of best practices (PDF, 653 KB) with these devices. Consumers who aren’t careful with their IoT network leave themselves vulnerable to data breach and a lack of privacy protection.
One of the most common ways consumers allow their IoT devices to remain vulnerable is through weak passwords. By leaving the default passwords that come with devices or by using easily guessable passwords, consumers make it easier for attackers to access their IoT network.
Social engineering occurs when an IoT system attacker uses a seemingly harmless device to communicate with a consumer. The consumer is tricked into providing personal information or persuaded to change settings within the IoT system that provide the attacker with additional access. Once the attacker has wider access within the system, they can steal more personal information or take control of the IoT system settings and data.
Vulnerabilities in IoT technology and networks allow attackers to install malware, gaining access to device data and control of the network. They can steal private information, intercept data as it’s mined, and gain control of the devices through the network. With malware, IoT devices turn into spies that report back to these attackers.
Ransomware is another crucial threat that should concern IoT technology users. When attackers install ransomware, the software steals data and encrypts it, allowing them to gain control of devices.
The system then demands a ransom from users. When paid, a decryption key is provided to regain control of the system. Without adequate detection and response capabilities throughout the IoT network, users leave their networks open to these malware and ransomware attacks.
Botnets are what attackers use to implement malware and ransomware through IoT systems. A group of botnets, referred to as a “bot-network,” take over the IoT network and access its data.
Once botnets have taken control, they send out spam emails, take over websites, or implement ransomware scams. When IoT technology isn’t regularly monitored, botnet cryptocurrency mining allows these bot-networks to intercept cryptocurrency transactions.
Over the years, bot-networks have become more advanced and malicious. In 2008, the Grum bot-network sent out 18 billion email spams to over 136,000 internet addresses. In 2016, the Methbot created over 6,000 fake domains to scam users.
Pros and Cons of the Blockchain for IoT Technology
Blockchain technology helps share data securely through the use of encryption and a decentralized network. With the blockchain, data isn’t stored in one place but instead is distributed in small, encrypted pieces to several locations for storage and monitored access. The concept of blockchain is helpful when addressing potential security threats in IoT networks.
The Advantages of a Decentralized IoT Network
When the blockchain is used to decentralize data on an IoT network, it offers several advantages, including the following:
- Distributed computation and storage across devices: With a decentralized network, data is stored in several locations, providing added security and function for IoT devices.
- Minimized maintenance and infrastructure costs: When data is stored in several locations, there isn’t one large infrastructure that must be kept up and maintained, which redistributes network costs to the various nodes of the chain.
- Safeguarded against network crashes: A decentralized network doesn’t rely on one location to keep data safe. If one node crashes, the entire network won’t collapse since data is stored in several places.
Disadvantages of Blockchain Integration
While a decentralized network has its advantages, there are disadvantages to blockchain integration, including the following:
- Learning curve for integration: Figuring out the most efficient and useful way to integrate blockchain technology can be challenging. Even those with extensive education in data science must analyze all options before implementation of this type. Users must also understand the technology to operate the network effectively.
- High privacy and security standards: The blockchain is known for its transparency so the implementation of security standards is key. Aggressive authentication steps and identity confirmations are important to ensure the network remains secure.
- Establishing validation mechanisms: While the blockchain attempts to make data storage and the IoT network more secure, spoofing may still be a threat. The network must establish validation and consensus mechanisms so the system agrees on data value. This prevents spoofing but can make the IoT network complicated since there isn’t one single authority.
There are many schools offering a master’s degree in data science that provide instruction on the blockchain and its role in IoT security. Whether you’re earning a data science degree online or interested in studying other IT and security disciplines, chances are you’ll learn about how the blockchain is changing and improving IoT networks. With a decentralized network and encrypted data, the blockchain may be what’s needed to keep IoT devices and their users safe from attacks.