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By 2025, the burgeoning world of IoT sensors and devices will be generating more than 70 trillion gigabytes of data per year — that’s almost twice the amount of data present across the entire digital universe at the start of the decade.
This flood of digital information will play a vital role in all manner of enterprise operations, from streamlining supply chains and logistics via advanced fleet management solutions to boosting productivity with smart infrastructure and connected work environments. But there’s a catch: With data fragmented across a vast ecosystem of web-connected devices, organizations risk losing track of how and where their data is created, circulated and used.
Only by ensuring full visibility into the ways in which data is stored, shared and transmitted can enterprises prevent costly data breaches, service outages and cybersecurity incidents. With more and more sensors and devices in play, achieving this level of data ownership isn’t always easy. But with a willingness to use new technologies to take control of connected dataflows, businesses can remain a step ahead, and mitigate risks while reaping the rewards of the IoT revolution.
The blockchain breakthrough
One such technology is blockchain — the decentralized virtual ledger that enabled the creation of cryptocurrencies. By enabling information to be stored openly and securely while providing a verifiable record of interactions and changes over time, blockchain offers important new ways to validate and control data as it swirls through fleets of IoT devices.
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For businesses bristling with IoT sensors and devices, blockchain solutions can forensically track dataflows, offering a clear understanding of how, when and where data is accessed. Those insights can then be used to improve operational processes, identify and correct errors and heighten productivity.
Imagine, for example, that a food logistics company has a fleet of refrigerated trucks equipped with smart thermometers. A faulty sensor might mean an entire shipment spoils before delivery, costing the company thousands of dollars. If blockchain had been used to record, monitor and distribute IoT data, on the other hand, it would be possible to pinpoint precisely where, when and why the malfunction happened, enabling speedy remedial action.
Blockchain technology can go further than simply tracking IoT device errors, however. Oregon-based fruit distributor Curry & Co has been using a distributed digital ledger to increase visibility over its environmental, inventory, processing, and product inspection data. The results: a more streamlined logistics network and also a robust system to help customers verify where shipments have been, how they’ve been handled and whether food safety regulations were properly followed.
From a business point of view, the value of such technologies is evident. If someone were to dispute the quality of a service or product by questioning the credibility of relevant IoT data, blockchain technology could enable all parties to verify claims and confirm whether the information had been compromised or tampered with in any way.
Know your IoT devices
Tracking and verifying data is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s also important for IoT fleet operators to have granular insights into device performance, enabling them to single out which device generated or transmitted which bit of data. Using blockchain technologies, it becomes far easier to trace data to its source and to streamline the process of patching, repairing or replacing devices when necessary.
This speaks to another important step in maintaining control over data in the expanding IoT world: ensuring you have visibility over all of your devices. For companies with a relatively small IoT footprint — a few hundred sensors or pieces of smart building infrastructure, say — this might seem like a simple job. For bigger organizations, though, keeping tabs on the data generated by a rapidly expanding global IoT portfolio can be a massive undertaking.
Regular network scans serve as an obvious solution, but conventional scanning tools typically identify only devices they’re already familiar with, making it easy to miss newer or less widely adopted devices and systems. Breakthroughs in automation are helping rectify this, with machine learning-enhanced programs capable of identifying patterns of behavior from devices that might otherwise go undetected.
One solution used by many large IoT operators is to connect devices to an internal network in a bid to maintain ownership over their data. That isn’t always the best approach, though. If an organization wants to take control of its connected dataflows, it must first ensure network integrity — and giving IoT devices unrestricted network access can create problems by giving hackers a backdoor into core dataflows and networks.
To defend against such threats, it’s important to ensure you’re using the right connectivity solutions — including cellular networks — and protecting your connected devices with appropriate security gateways and firewalls. Above all, remember that the goal is to keep your data close to home — so don’t accept solutions that ping your data through a scattered network of global servers before it arrives where it’s needed.
Finding the middle ground
With the rapid proliferation of IoT devices, tech-forward organizations face a sink-or-swim moment. Will they succumb to an ever-expanding sea of digital information — or find secure and trackable ways to use connected dataflows to drive efficiency and performance enhancements?
If you aspire to the latter, maintaining a high degree of ownership over IoT data is crucial. You must be bold and seek out opportunities in breakthrough technologies such as blockchain in order to ensure data visibility. And you’ll also need to get the basics right by keeping track of the devices you have in play, and making network integrity a key priority at all times.
Ensuring IoT data security can seem daunting. But it’s an area organizations can’t afford to neglect. The opportunity cost of missing the IoT revolution is too great; so is the risk of losing control of sensitive or mission-critical data. By taking control of their data, businesses can find the middle ground — and harness the power of IoT innovation as we advance into an era of ever-greater connectivity.
Frank Stoecker is a serial entrepreneur, telecoms expert and CEO and co-founder of EMnify.
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