It’s become hard these days to browse Forbes or any sort of tech blog without coming across terms that are increasingly common – Bitcoin. Ethereum. Crypto. Blockchain. Industry experts will remind you it’s not without reason: by some estimates, the value of cryptocurrency has swelled to an excess of $100 billion.
Not everyone has been quick to jump on board.
Just last month, JP Morgan Chase & Co. slammed the technology during a conference presented by CNBC: “It’s just not a real thing; eventually, it will be closed,” he said, going so far as to guarantee that any workers in his employ would be fired for trading it. “(Conventional) currencies have legal support. It will blow up.”
While Dimon – a traditional banker at the head of a company with an old, proud heritage – might not be expected anyway to stand among digital currency’s champions, others in the finance and tech industries have raised their own concerns about the technology’s long-term viability. While the present-day value is undeniable, many have wondered if something so vast and new can remain secure.
The Internet of Things, while a darling in the tech world, has been the subject of similar misgivings. A sensor-guided semi-truck prone to hacking, for instance, or a home computer transformed into a remote-operated spy cam, are understandably unsettling prospects. Yet among the technology’s most seasoned proponents, IoT remains a matter of undertaking reasonable risk to achieve unparalleled breakthrough.
“The fact that this technology is becoming viable excites me,” said Arizona-based tech entrepreneur Jason Hope in a February interview with IdeaMensch. “I see (IoT devices) making a huge difference in our society.”
Hope, a long-time advocate for the increasing connectedness of Internet-capable devices and everyday objects, has been one of the first to temper his optimism with a healthy respect.
“Devices that are designed with the Internet of Things may be convenient,” he wrote in a February Op-Ed for Business.com, “But there are also some huge security risks involved.”
Hope went on to relate a recent rise in IoT device attacks and the attractiveness to hackers of sensitive data-laden interfaces.
“The security found in many IoT devices is not high,” he continued, noting that smaller devices lacking the computing strength of your average Droid or IPhone are particularly susceptible. “With their remote management software, IoT devices are often seen as wide open for remote exploitation.”
While Hope stressed the importance of not using easy-to-crack, default, passwords for one’s devices, and insisted upon a standard to be set by manufacturers for the same. As a baseline expectation developers should also employ digitally signed and encrypted firmware.
Others in the industry have begun calling for Blockchain.
A relatively new technology, Blockchain was first employed large-scale in 2009 as entrepreneur Craig Wright rolled out Bitcoin, still today the most recognizable form of cryptocurrency. The idea was to create a form of decentralized digital currency, one free from all of the fees and bureaucracy associated with conventional banks. Transactions would exist in an online ledger – reachable by anyone in the market – by which traders could record and annotate their dealings in the same manner that Google Docs allows users to access and make amendments to common documents. A fully public registry – accessible to millions – Blockchain and its underlying securities could in theory render a digital currency system virtually incorruptible.
It’s worked to this point in the Crypto world – well enough for those in the tech industry to contemplate its potential for securing other trades, like IoT.
“Blockchain is promising for IoT security for the same reasons it works for cryptocurrency: It provides assurances that data is legitimate, and the process that introduces new data is well-defined,” noted Ahmed Banafa, IoT expert and lecturer at San Jose State University. Banafa recently wrote a detailed overview (https://www.bbvaopenmind.com/en/a-secure-model-of-iot-with-blockchain/) on the potential for interaction between the two technologies.
Some experts contend that a Blockchain-IoT merger could result in a platform for reliable connection, one free from the problems encountered by more central server models. Some less obvious industries have already incorporated Blockchain into their IoT-powered machines – those used in agriculture and manufacturing, for example – ones in which remote-powered sensors are expected to operate on low maintenance to begin with.
Still, when it comes to the big money stuff – multimillion dollar purchases and holdings, for example – skeptics remain.
“The Internet was not designed for the transactions taking place today,” said Christian Catalini, an assistant professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, in a June interview with Forbes. “And our communication protocols don’t have enough information about the identity of individuals or devices embedded in them.”
With so much (money, especially) riding on the success of both industries, it’s difficult to imagine IoT and Blockchain not ever formally joining forces. Perhaps it’s refreshing, then, when those at the forefront – experts like Catalini, Banafa and Hope –can exhibit restraint with so much left to gain.
About Jason Hope
Jason Hope is an Arizona-based tech, entrepreneur, futurist and philanthropist. A finance graduate of Arizona State University and MBA-holder from the school’s W.P. Carey School of Business, Hope recently donated $500,000 to the SENS Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to researching rejuvenation biotechnologies related to addressing age-related diseases. He resides in Scottsdale.