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By 2025, the nascent world of IoT sensors and devices will generate Lake over 70 trillion gigabytes of data per year — that’s almost twice the quantity data that was present throughout the digital universe at the beginning of the decade.
This flow of digital information will play a vital role in everything from streamlining supply chains and logistics through advanced fleet management solutions to increasing productivity with smart infrastructure and connected work environments. But there’s a catch: With data fragmented across a vast ecosystem of Internet-connected devices, organizations risk losing sight of how and where their data is created, distributed, and used.
Only by ensuring complete visibility into the ways data is stored, shared and transmitted can enterprises avoid costly data breaches, service outages and cybersecurity incidents. With more and more sensors and devices coming into play, achieving this level of data ownership isn’t always easy. But with a willingness to use new technologies to take control of connected data streams, companies can stay one step ahead and mitigate risk while reaping the benefits of the IoT revolution.
The blockchain breakthrough
One such technology is blockchain – the decentralized virtual ledger that enabled the creation of cryptocurrencies. By ensuring that information can be stored openly and securely while providing a verifiable record of interactions and changes over time, blockchain provides important new ways to validate and verify data as it swirls through fleets of IoT devices. .
For businesses packed with IoT sensors and devices, blockchain solutions can forensically track data flows, providing a clear understanding of how, when and where data is accessed. Those insights can then be used to improve business processes, identify and correct errors, and increase productivity.
Imagine that a food logistics company has a fleet of refrigerated trucks equipped with smart thermometers. A faulty sensor can mean an entire shipment goes bad before it’s delivered, costing the company thousands of dollars. In contrast, if blockchain had been used to capture, monitor and distribute IoT data, it would be possible to determine exactly where, when and why the outage occurred, allowing for rapid recovery.
However, blockchain technology can go beyond just tracking IoT device failures. Oregon-based fruit distributor Curry & Co has used a distributed digital ledger to increase visibility about its environmental, inventory, processing and product inspection data. The result: a more streamlined logistics network as well as a robust system to help customers monitor where shipments have been, how they have been handled and whether food safety regulations have been followed properly.
From a business point of view, the value of such technologies is evident. If someone were to contest the quality of a service or product by questioning the credibility of relevant IoT data, blockchain technology could allow all parties to verify claims and confirm whether the information has been compromised or in any way has been tampered with.
Know your IoT devices
Tracking and verifying data is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s also important for IoT fleet managers to have granular visibility into device performance so they can determine which device generated or sent what data. Using blockchain technologies, it becomes much easier to trace data to its source and streamline the process of patching, repairing or replacing devices when needed.
This speaks to another important step in maintaining control over data in the growing IoT world: making sure you have visibility across all your devices. For companies with a relatively small IoT footprint – say, a few hundred sensors or pieces of smart building infrastructure – this may seem like an easy job. However, for larger organizations, it can be a huge undertaking to keep up with the data generated by a rapidly growing global IoT portfolio.
Regular network scans are an obvious solution, but conventional scan tools typically only identify devices they’re already familiar with, making it easy to miss out on newer or less widely accepted devices and systems. Breakthroughs in automation are helping to rectify this, with machine learning-enhanced programs that can identify behavioral patterns of devices that would otherwise go unnoticed.
One solution used by many major IoT operators is to connect devices to an internal network to maintain ownership of their data. However, that is not always the best approach. If an organization wants to take control of its connected data flows, it must first ensure network integrity. Giving unrestricted network access to IoT devices can cause problems by giving hackers a back door to key data streams and networks.
To protect against such threats, it is important to ensure that you use the right connectivity solutions, including mobile networks, and that you protect 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 dispersed network of global servers before it gets to where it’s needed.
Finding the golden mean
With the fast proliferation from IoT devices, tech-forward organizations are facing a moment of sinking or swimming. Will they succumb to an ever-expanding sea of digital information – or find secure and traceable ways to use connected data flows to drive efficiency and performance improvements?
If you pursue the latter, maintaining a high degree of ownership over IoT data is critical. You have to be bold and seek opportunities in groundbreaking technologies like blockchain to ensure data visibility. And you should also master the basics by keeping track of what devices you have in use and making network integrity a top priority at all times.
Ensuring IoT data security can seem daunting. But it is an area that organizations should not neglect. The opportunity cost of missing the IoT revolution is too high; so is the risk of losing control of sensitive or business-critical data. By taking control of their data, companies can find the middle ground – and harness the power of IoT innovation as we move into an era of ever-greater connectivity.
Frank Stoecker is a serial entrepreneur, telecom expert and CEO and co-founder of EMnify.
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