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IoT and Trust as Currency in the Age of Blockchain

Jul 30, 2018 4 MIN. READ

Thanks to the blockchain, we can begin to verify that our personal data won’t be forged or hacked.

Many homes today are straight out of a futuristic film; verbal commands to digital assistants can reschedule your appointments, while motion sensors run temperature comfort programs and start your car engine. We live in a technical age in which smart sensors, edge analytics, and artificial intelligence can make our daily routine a lot simpler – so why aren’t these technologies more commonplace? It comes down to trust.

Until we feel secure in digitally integrating our AC systems, garage doors, and alarm clocks, the IoT architecture can’t operate as designed. The simplified line of reasoning goes like this: for IoT to work as intended, the user must place his or her trust in the data transactions behind the scenes. This year, IoT devices have outnumbered the current world’s population; our absence of an optimal method to properly identify and trust these devices is highly concerning. But how can we verify that our personal data won’t be forged or hacked?

Blockchain is a promising technology that challenges these concerns.

What many know as the main enabler for bitcoin and other crypto currencies, blockchain has caught the eye of financial markets as a premium (and elusive) disruptive technology. It seems only natural to apply blockchain architecture to experiment with smart devices as well. The IoT ecosystem is akin to a group of individual smart devices that require identity credentials before sending data to the other smart devices and/or the analytical process. A blockchain can identify devices in an ‘ecosystem’ based on their transaction history.

With its robust security and almost perfect record with hacking protection, blockchain architecture is a feasible candidate to experiment in the IoT space.

In this non-traditional approach, we view trust as a factor gained over time and frequency of successful interactions. The more successful transactions, the stronger the trust. If each IoT device is uniquely defined by its own blockchain according to the transaction history it generates, we will call this a trust blockchain. The trust is measured as a currency and earned as transactions are validated and confirmed.

information blockchain

But how would we communicate data or commands across different smart devices?

Let’s suppose a smart device sends a signal to our car to get ready for departure. The smart device would create a transaction to the blockchain of the main manager control (the information blockchain). The main manager first needs to corroborate that the device triggering the message is actually part of our smart home, and quarantines the message as pending. It then starts the consensus mechanism -- let’s call it ‘Proof of Trust’ -- which verifies the transaction and confirms the smart device identity.

Once the consensus has been achieved, the block that contains the transaction is added to the main manager blockchain, and the data is released from quarantine. The message is then relayed to the car to prepare for departure.

information block example

Now that the transaction validates and confirms the identity of the smart device, a trustworthiness reward is issued on trust currency. With time, the smart device becomes a trusted member of the system. Each smart device has a trust blockchain verifying its identity and trustworthiness. These blockchains are used in the main manager Information blockchain to provide a way to confirm and validate the transactions triggered by the smart device.

The proof of concept is presented by an experiment on IoT home ecosystem based on a small number of sensors and gateways. Our experiment showed the trustworthiness increase of the devices by way of frequent data transactions and command executions of the smart home daily processes.

The experiment also suggested the main conflict in the IoT/blockchain space: that even though the technology is promising, we still need to reduce the computational resources and time on calculating the proof of trust. Perhaps it’s helpful to imagine each smart device as actual humans to illustrate the concept of individual identity management and privacy. People gain trust in one another over time and direct interaction, based on building a rapport and cooperating towards common goals – or simply by spending time together. But save all the complicating factors that accompany human relationships, we hope that society’s trust in their devices won’t be so meandering.

Our research was presented at SPIE 2018 conference by Dr. Irak Mayer with a grant from ICF. A more in-depth explanation of the system can be found at “Blockchain of trust on a M2AP IoT architecture” presented at the SPIE 2018 conference.

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