Maximise IoT security in your business with blockchain

Posted on 19 Apr 2019 by Maddy White

IoT security is pivotal for manufacturers, how can they safeguard data that’s key to their enterprise? How can firms ensure it cannot be hacked? Blockchain could be the technology to solve these burning questions.

Blockchain network concept on technology background - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Blockchain firms create systems, but they need to tailor it for manufacturers – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Blockchain or distributed ledger technology, can be defined as record-keeping databases that store blocks of information on a chain.

Seems simple, but how does that translate into manufacturer’s securing their crucial data?

Manufacturing leaders from across the UK gathered at the recent  Industrial Blockchain Exchange to understand the role of blockchain technology within their operations and learn its best application to them.

After a keynote from the Digital Catapult’s Robert Learney – which you can read here, delegates sat at a series of roundtable discussions focused on a particular topic. 

“Rightfully paranoid”

The theme of my first roundtable debate was ‘IoT & Blockchain Security’, a topic high on the agenda of businesses wanting to integrate blockchain into their operation.

Robert Learney hosted the table and began by saying, “What blockchain does is align separate players, you need to understand your own business, and so it’s just a form of data-sharing. But, it is about the granularity of what you want to share.”

“In defence, we are rightfully paranoid,” said a senior engineer at a global defence firm. “Our key concern is the aggregation of data, if people get enough of it they can work out what we are making and that cannot happen.”

A delegate from an international firm added, “Do we know that these blockchain companies understand our manufacturing businesses like we do? If we are going to share data with them then they need to.”

Zero knowledge proof could prove essential

If a supplier or a customer has a question, such as ‘has that criteria been fulfilled?,  which for security reasons the business can’t answer, a response could be found within the chain. This is known as ‘zero knowledge proof’, and could be crucial in protecting important information.

For example, did a firm order more than 50 parts, this could be answered yes or no, but the exact number of parts doesn’t have to be disclosed. Importantly, questions cannot be continuously asked to narrow down the exact answer either.

Robert Learney delivered his keynote earlier in the day - image courtesy of TM.
Robert Learney delivered his keynote earlier in the day – image courtesy of TM.

“You can encrypt products in a block, and only a certain amount of information can be released, to know that the answer to a question is right.

“No company will ever reveal everything, and importantly, not everything has to be seen or visible. But, the nature of encryption means that it could always be broken in the future,” Learney noted.

If a firm wants a certain person or group to see the exact answer then a sub-section could be created. This sub-section can see the exact number, but the whole channel can’t. Everyone on the chain can understand that the criteria has been met and so the transaction can proceed.

Proving the point

The conversation moved on to value propositions, and it was agreed that these are currently challenging to prove for manufacturers.

Blockchain businesses create the technology, but they need to tailor it for individual’s needs to better demonstrate the benefits and value of its implementation.

“It is getting all the supply chain around one table and agreeing, which right now seems very unlikely. It is hard for UK manufacturing to get investment,” Learney said.

Another blockchain expert added, “There are differences between blockchains, you can’t optimise for everything and so the supply chain must agree on the system to be used.”

Learney rounded off the conversation by saying, “There are a lot of different distributed ledger technology (DLT) options, with varying levels of complexity, and it’s about how to choose the right system. Choices should be made about what you want to do with your operation, smart contracts, supply chain visibility, etc.

“Once that has been decided, nodes need to be installed at the key locations which are connected in a network. People have to experiment and that’s why the Digital Catapult is here to coach, develop and link up partners.”