The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the fastest-growing sectors, a massive number of devices come on-line daily. Each of the devices collects data on-site continuously, which, multiplying by the number of devices, makes data management a significant logistical challenge, especially when many IoT devices are collecting sensitive patient data. In addition, the lack of an established security standard makes these devices even more attractive to hackers. IoT devices need a solution that resists data tampering and increases transparency and accountability.
Blockchain technology might be a good fit for meeting the security demands of IoT data management. Best known for its use in Bitcoin, blockchain is a flexible technology used to monitor, verify, and approve transactions in the absence of a central authority. Each block contains a digital fingerprint (hash) and timestamped transactions that have been approved by all the stakeholders and is added to an existing chain of blocks (ledger). The ledger is irreversible and tamper-proof, as the attempts of revision will be visible to all involved parties. As a result, blockchain removes the need of intermediaries, reduces the cost and time needed to record transactions, and avoids duplications, therefore increasing trust between parties and reducing the risk and cost of doing business. Also, the industry believes that by combining IoT and blockchain, you will get better data integration and thus create more business opportunities. (For an introduction, see How blockchain can enhance trust in IoT interactions.)
Figure. Blocks in a blockchain contain both cryptographic hashes of their data and a hash of the previous block's header, creating a chain of data records that cannot be altered without detection. (Source: NIST)
While blockchain started with usage between individuals, it needs to scale into enterprise solutions before it can be applied to IoT. Consortia provide a way to share and scale the blockchain technology to address specific industry challenges. Technology-focused consortia aim to solve general problems across various sectors, business-focused consortia form to solve sector-specific problems, and consortia with combined focuses try to do both. Hyperledger is one of the most prominent technology-focused consortium.
Overview of the Hyperledger Project
Enterprise blockchain solutions need to do several things well. First, they need to be easy to use, fast to develop, and since the data collected by IoT devices will be transferred in and out of different databases that are not adopted for blockchain, interoperability of the solution will be crucial. Also, as connected IoT devices increasingly will need to be able to “talk” to each other via data transfer or commands, interoperability will be critical in this regard.
Hyperledger, a Linux Foundation open-source project, works to make the lives of blockchain developers easier with a user-friendly programming interface (API) and software modules that developers can plug and play into their solutions. Starting with 17 companies initially, it has grown to more than 250 members across the world. Just recently, two of the largest enterprise software companies, Microsoft and Salesforce, have joined the Hyperledger community.
In 2017, Fabric became the first platform to be launched by Hyperledger. Initially contributed by Digital Asset and IBM and arguably the highest-profile of the Hyperledger projects, Fabric could act as a plug-and-play foundation for consensus and membership services. Using Fabric on IoT devices might help valuable assets and shipments that the IoT devices are helping to monitor. Also, the consensus function of Fabric control access to data, help maintain data confidentiality and monitor possible data breach.
In 2018, Sawtooth became the second to be launched. Contributed by Intel, Sawtooth has a consensus mechanism called Proof of Elapsed Time (PoET), which enables users to reach consensus and validate transactions even though the parties do not know each other. PoET marks the difference between Sawtooth and the conventional permissioned blockchains, which require users to know and trust each other. Sawtooth has seen use in many companies, such as T-Mobile and State Bank of India, whose clients use IoT devices (mainly smartphones) to conduct business.
Indy provides tools for creating and using independent digital identities (self-sovereign identity; SSI) that are interoperable across administrative domains and applications. With SSI, participants can determine their roles and trusted parties, so that they retain control of their identity wallet and all other credentials even when their credentials are revoked. As a result, the identity system becomes more flexible, secure, private, cost-effective, and user-friendly. Use cases of Indy include digital documents, secure password-less authentication, spam reduction, membership management, enforcement of age restrictions, invoicing, games, employment verification, and supply chain provenance.
In addition to these active tools, many other useful Hyperledger tools are being incubated. These include the following, listed alphabetically:
Aries uses the digital identity components from Indy and the security management component of Ursa to make the main identity wallet interoperable with other identity projects. Aries originated from developers from Sovrin Foundation and the Indy community.
Burrow , originally contributed by Monax and co-sponsored by Intel, provides a permissioned smart contract interpreter, which tracks and verifies the components of a contract to ensure security.
Caliper is a benchmark tool that allows users to measure the performance of a blockchain solution within specific use cases. Huawei, Hyperchain, Oracle, Bitwise, Soramitsu, IBM and the Budapest University of Technology and Economics were the original contributors of Caliper.
Cello is a toolkit that helps developers build a blockchain-as-a-service platform more easily with established modules. Initially contributed by IBM, Cello also counts Soramitsu, Huawei and Intel as its sponsors.
Composer is a set of collaboration tools for building and testing blockchain business networks.
Explorer is a blockchain module designed to increase the user-friendliness of the solution’s web interface for viewing, invoking, deploying or querying the relevant information stored in the ledger. IBM, Intel, and DTCC made the original contribution to Explorer.
Grid is geared towards building solutions for supply chain scenarios. The US-based agricultural conglomerate Cargill is investing in Grid with the hope of streamlining the agricultural supply chain with blockchain.
Iroha , written in C++, has established a standard set of commands and queries for asset and identity management. Iroha was contributed by Soramitsu, Hitachi, NTT Data and Colu.
Quilt address the problem of information transfer between blockchain (distributed) and non-blockchain (non-distributed) systems and helps improve the interoperability between ledgers. NTT Data and Ripple made the initial contribution to Quilt.
Ursa is a tool that helps eliminate the duplication of data, thus freeing up storage space. De-duplication will also reduce the amount of data to be transferred and the inherent risk in data transfer, thus increasing data security.
The Collaboration between Hyperledger Project and Enterprise Ethereum Alliance
Hyperledger and Ethereum Enterprise Alliance (EEA), two of the most prominent blockchain consortia, have recently joined forces to bring common standards to the space.
EEA has been focusing on developing specifications, while Hyperledger emphasizes on code development and governance; the two organizations have highly complementary capabilities. Also, because they have different systems to control access and reach consensus, their alliance will help improve interoperability between different systems. EEA and Hyperledger have been collaborating on projects such as Burrow, and Sawtooth, and Private Data Objects. To developers, many of whom have participated in both organizations, the alliance is a significant and positive step.
The growing Hyperledger community provides embedded developers with plenty of development tools to choose from. The various consortia also provide developers with different levels of support including tutorials, platforms to learn and share together. The joining of Hyperledger and EEA has added additional support to the overall development efforts.
Moving forward, they will enable Hyperledger developers to write code that conforms to the EEA specification and obtain EEA certification. On the other hand, Ethereum developers can submit their enterprise projects to Hyperledger. For Hyperledger and EEA, there continue to be exciting opportunities for further improving blockchain functions, such as in the areas of identity, privacy, interoperability, scalability, and performance metrics. It is expected that the Hyperledger community will only get larger and fuel the growth of blockchains in the years to come.
John Koon 's current roles include embedded technology research and publication. He was the Editor-in-Chief of the RTC Magazine and COTS Journal. His current role is a freelance editor/writer working for multiple magazines. He held a BS in engineering (California State Polytechnic University, Pomona) and an MBA (San Diego State University) with 20 years of management experience.
Check out all the stories in this Special Project on blockchain and the IoT:
Blockchain Bolstering the Internet of Things
Blockchain technology may hold the key to unlocking the IoT's full potential, but will need to be properly adapted to succeed. We examine how two of the biggest technological trends in recent years are intersecting.
Basics of blockchain for the IoT
Bitcoin and the IoT are two of today's hottest trends, and they find their intersection in blockchain technology. But the blockchain of the IoT is different from the blockchain of Bitcoin.
Hyperledger Project resources for developers
Embedded applications increasingly need a solution that resists data tampering and increases transparency and accountability. Blockchain technology could meet that need and the Hyperledger Project can help.
Blockchain: Uses for engineers may happen someday
The distributed digital ledger technology is making waves in business applications, but not so much for engineering use cases. The technology is still too immature.