Around 21 billion devices are expected to be interconnected by 2020 according to research firm Gartner. This does not include smartphones and computers. IDC estimates that this year that the Internet of Things (IoT) industry expenditure to exceed $1.7 Trillion. Unsurprisingly, IBM, Google, intel and other tech companies are exploring and investing in this space.
A Device-to-Device transactional engine
As everyday ‘things’ become ‘smarter’ thanks to the continuing decline of sensors and microcontrollers, a logical conclusion is to enable these devices to transact with less dependence on coordination and computing resources from a centralized IoT control point.
In Device Democracy, a research paper published by IBM, the feasibility of moving this control to the edge of the network i.e the IoT devices was investigated. To enable this distributed network of devices, off the shelf technologies were used: Telehash for encrypted communication, BitTorrent for file distribution and a Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) platform, Ethereum, as a transnational engine.
This topology allows devices to achieve a high level of autonomy communicating directly in a peer-to-peer mode. With a DLT component, transactions records and business logic is replicated to each node, effectively resulting in a shared ledger and executing platform.
Beyond enabling devices to directly execute business logic, it can provide the medium to transfer value to pay for services provided by these devices. DLTs like Bitcoin and Ethereum, allow this value transfer through cryptocurrencies. DLT not supporting native cryptocurrencies can still provide indirect representation of values, e.g cryptographic receipts/tokens backed by funds.
IoT Achilles heel
Although security is usually part of the overall system design, in the case of many IoT applications, security issues can completely invalidate a design. Examples of hackers gaining remote control of vehicle brakes or the more alarming demonstrations of ability to silently control insulin pump of diabetic patients, illustrates the need to move security considerations early on in the architectural design.
In cryptocurrency systems such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, the integrity of these ‘monetary systems’ lies on the security the blockchain can provide. As of this writing, the market cap of the native coins in circulation for Ethereum is over $1 billion and over $7 billion for Bitcoin. Ensuring integrity in these types of systems, requires that attempt to tamper with records or modify business logic becomes evident to all participants. The mindset is to design with that assume that the system will be under attack by malicious actors.
IoT needs to convincingly address security if it is to gain mass adoption. The possibility for DLT to not only act as a transnational engine but extend its underlying security is worth exploring.