Can Blockchain Provide a Secure Platform for M2M Transactions?

IoT paired with blockchain technology is laying the groundwork for the next step in information and technological evolution. With blockchain, M2M can be successfully conducted in a secure and efficient way.

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Computer with the words
Illustration: © IoT For All

The Internet of Things (IoT) is on a path to changing the way we live. From homes that self-regulate temperature for our comfort to cities operating autonomously for efficiency and safety, the value of IoT appears to be never-ending. Although we’re eager to embrace this futuristic lifestyle, IoT still has a few kinks to iron out before our cars can autonomously drive to get serviced or our fridges can securely purchase groceries.

Cisco predicts there will be 50 billion devices connected to the internet by 2020. An influx in devices means more transactions of data between them. Managing this data and implementing the necessary security protocols so new IoT technology can function at its fullest will be a challenging obstacle to overcome.

Current security standards being implemented into IoT devices will not be able to support the increase of devices; however, blockchain may hold the key to unlocking our autonomous future.

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Machine-to-Machine: The Foundation of Future Technology

M2M can basically be described as the transaction of information between systems to carry out an autonomous task. It’s used across various industries to automate tasks, thereby increasing efficiency and cutting costs in the process.

One of the most basic uses of M2M would be a vending machine autonomously contacting its distribution company when its supplies have fallen below a certain point. M2M could potentially be utilized in hospitals to administer medications intravenously to patients whose vitals fall below a certain level. M2M is the basis on which future IoT devices will operate.

New uses of blockchain technology seem to be discovered daily. Now with blockchain, M2M can be successfully conducted in a secure and efficient way.

Can Smart Contracts Be Used for M2M Operations?

Coined by computer scientist Nick Szabo in 1994, a smart contract lays out a series of conditions that must be met in order for an operation to be performed autonomously. They’ve become a prime feature of the Ethereum blockchain, a platform developed by Vitalik Buterin in 2015.

Smart contracts are stored and run on a blockchain, making them secure and decentralized. They’re currently being developed hand in hand with blockchain for use in the banking, transportation, and insurance industries for supply chain management, insurance claims, and managing digital identity.

HDAC, a subsidiary of Hyundai Corporation, is currently working to provide efficient M2M operations through the use of IoT contracts on their blockchain platform. As explained by HDAC, an “IoT contract is a concept where the object of the smart contract is expanded to IoT devices. A programmer can create a program that controls the operation of the IoT device.” According to the HDAC website, their network is planned to be released sometime in 2020. This service provides all the tools necessary to run M2M transactions in the secure network of a blockchain, solving security issues that IoT currently encounters.

Addressing Security Issues with Blockchain

Wearables, such as Apple Watch or Fitbit, being so small, tend to lack the memory and proper computing capacity required for fail-proof security protocols to be enforced.

Given the large number of IoT devices available and the methods of which data is siloed, IoT devices are often susceptible to DDoS attacks. DDoS could have the ability to slow M2M systems operating on the targeted network. Taking the example of the patient whose vitals drop below a certain level, this could have drastic effects on future implementations of IoT.

Another drawback of current IoT systems is, data is generally held in a centralized database. This creates a variety of problems, the first being a single point of failure. Facebook currently utilizes a single point of login for its users to access a variety of other services. So, if Facebook is hacked, so are the rest of the services that allow a Facebook sign-in.

The Value of Decentralization

Blockchain operating through a decentralized ledger makes up for what IoT lacks in security associated with M2M. The risk associated with a single point of failure due to data siloing is mitigated through the use of distributed nodes across the blockchain. The blockchain is decentralized and unchangeable, unless a majority of the chain deems it necessary to implement any changes.

Using the complex hashing and encryption algorithms currently utilized to perform the transactions of cryptocurrencies, the same systems can be put in place in order to use blockchain for IoT. The decentralized nature of blockchain can securely store IoT data and be used to address issues associated with the influx of information to come.

Ensuring the Future of M2M

The widespread use of the internet in the 90s forever changed the way we communicate. More than 20 years later, this technology, which seemed so foreign at its beginnings, has become an integral part of our daily lives. IoT paired with blockchain technology is laying the groundwork for the next step in information and technological evolution.

The ideas are there, as is the inspiration, innovation, and drive. Security in relation to M2M transactions is one of the final few steps that needs to be taken to ensure this new technology can operate at its fullest potential. At the moment, cars, refrigerators, homes, and cities acting autonomously seem like elements of a sci-fi film. It may take some time, but eventually, this technology will become such an integral part of our lives that we will forget about its incremental beginnings and experimentation altogether.