The Internet of Things offers the promise of greater efficiency and convenience, not to mention economic growth. But it also presents unique challenges. Negligence and unpreparedness on the part of large companies have led to the loss or theft of sensitive information relating to millions of individuals over the past several years. It is not difficult to see how, when the power of that information extends to the running of our cars, trains, air traffic control, and disaster recovery coordination systems, the risks rise in tandem with the benefits.
Moreover, we all know that there is no shortage of people who would seek to use technology to inflict direct harm. It was recently discovered that a person’s phone can be hacked simply by receiving a malicious text message, while ransomware attacks have become an increasingly common threat to American cities. When the digital world inhabits the physical devices and vehicles that make modern life possible, the potential damage caused by a hacker increases tremendously. We need bold solutions if society is to address this risk and prevent major problems.
Fortunately, the technology is at hand to transform the Internet of Things into what we at IoTeX call the “Internet of Trusted Things.” By combining secure hardware solutions with immutable blockchains, we can safeguard the IoT at every linkage point, providing protection against negligence and defense against malicious attacks. Secure hardware, such as the type of secure chip found in most credit cards, can protect each physical device from duplication or imitation. The information generated by the device, or transmitted to and from it, can be written to an immutable blockchain, rendering it impervious to tampering. No vehicle could impersonate another to cause havoc on the roads; a hacker would be less able to trick the devices in a smart home to put a family at risk. Instead, the Internet of Trusted Things can help us create a secure, prosperous, connected world. To paraphrase a famous maxim, the goal is not “don’t be evil,” but “can’t be evil.”
This securing of the Internet of Things will lead to enhanced economic opportunity as well. All of the tiny actions and transactions that take place on mobile devices today create a sea of data that can be valuable to businesses, governments, and other parties. But today, much of that data is “junk”: it is duplicated, fake, or of low value. Data created by devices on the Internet of Trusted Things would, however, be authentic and high-value by definition. It would also, by virtue of the anonymous trust enabled by blockchains, protect the privacy of those who generate it. This would be an economic boon to people throughout the economy, leading to better products and improved processes in many spheres of life.
The IoT is coming whether we are ready or not. It poses risks and challenges equal to its potential for positive change. Fortunately, we have the tools to turn the Internet of Things into the Internet of Trusted Things. The sooner we get to work making it a reality, the better off we all will be.
(Raullen Chai is the co-founder and CEO of IoTeX, a technology company that uses blockchain to secure hardware devices and data storage to build end-to-end encrypted device ecosystems for the Internet of Trusted Things.)