Fast, reliable security is critical for many IoT use cases, but conventional centralized security systems may struggle to cope with the infrastructure cost and complexity of securing IoT ecosystems.
SmartAxiom’s decentralized security solution with IBM Informix provides device-to-cloud security within IoT ecosystems, using blockchain to handle security at physical, transport and operational levels.
Avoidspotentially multi-million-dollar losses by reducing the risk of costly downtime
Reducescloud costs by moving authentication services to the edge of the network
30%reduction in development time and 20% faster running database software
Business challenge story
Securing the Internet of ThingsCybersecurity is big news. Even a cursory glance at the headlines reveals dozens of stories about viruses and hacks, affecting some of the world’s largest companies and government organizations. The results can be catastrophic—disrupting public services, halting production lines, or even directly extorting millions of dollars via ransomware demands.
Hackers often start by targeting the weakest link in any network—perhaps by cracking a weak password on a seemingly insignificant device. This acts like a breach in the wall of a besieged city: once the hackers gain an entry point, the whole network may soon be at their mercy.
This is a significant concern for any company with a large IT network, but the adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies takes the threat to a whole new level.
Niraj Kadakia, Global Business Development & Sales Executive, Embedded Analytics - IoT & Cross Industries at IBM comments: “If every IoT device could be an entry point for hackers, what happens when you add tens of thousands of Internet-connected devices to your corporate network? We’re excited to be working with SmartAxiom because their mission is to solve this problem by making IoT safer for organizations to work with.”
Amit Biyani, the company’s founder, explains: “The key problem with IoT from a security perspective is its scale. Traditional security systems rely on a central server to authenticate all the devices on the network—but when you have 50,000 devices, that simply doesn’t work. The network gets overloaded with all the authentication requests, and if the central server fails, everything fails.”
Jonathan Braniff, Global Strategist and Head of Business Development, adds: “We decided to look at the problem in a new way. What if we could design a decentralized security model that didn’t rely on a centralized authority? By moving responsibility for authentication from the center to the edge of the network, we could massively mitigate the difficulties of scaling authentication across even the largest IoT environments.”
Gunjan Karun, Head of Global Product Development, adds: “Our challenge was to find the right technologies to make this new kind of security solution possible. That’s why we started working with IBM.”
Living on the edge
SmartAxiom realized that blockchain—the core technology behind cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin—had the potential to provide a robust, decentralized security architecture for the IoT.
Amit Biyani explains: “Blockchain provides a decentralized mechanism whereby the nodes in a network can achieve consensus on the truth about a series of events, and lock that truth into the fabric of the blockchain itself. With Bitcoin, those events are financial transactions—but the same mechanism can be used to create a tamper-proof audit trail for security events within a network.”
Impressed by IBM’s investment in blockchain via its contributions to the Hyperledger project, the SmartAxiom team saw IBM as an ideal partner to help it build the technology required to get this innovative idea to market.
“Our solution involves deploying gateway devices that sit between the IoT devices at the edge of the network, and the cloud servers at the center,” says Gunjan Karun. “So, our blockchain includes three separate ledgers: one for the IoT devices, one for the gateways themselves, and one for the cloud.”
Jonathan Braniff comments: “Blockchain is at the heart of the solution, but Blockchain alone isn’t enough. We need to manage the physical security of IoT devices on the network, as well as protecting the data that those devices generate, both in motion and at rest. Moreover, we need to bring these capabilities to the edge of the network—the data processing needs to happen on the gateways, instead of relying on powerful central servers.”
Gunjan Karun adds: “The gateways need to be small, robust, low-cost devices that can be deployed anywhere—even in tough environments such as industrial facilities. The processing and memory capacity of such devices is limited, so the software running on them needs to be very efficient. That’s why we decided to use IBM Informix as the database platform for these embedded systems.”
SmartAxiom worked with the IBM Embedded Analytics team to deploy the IBM Informix database on its gateways. Informix is used to manage the thousands of data points that flow between the gateway and its IoT endpoints.
“IBM Informix is almost perfectly designed for IoT use cases,” says Amit Biyani. “First, it is optimized to handle time-series data, which is vital when you have streams of events coming in from many devices. Second, it is column-oriented, which means you can query data and verify it very quickly. Third, it compresses data automatically, which makes it very resource-efficient on embedded systems. Fourth, it has built-in encryption, which helps to protect data at rest. And finally, it has very strong replication capabilities, which make it easy to keep data in sync between gateways throughout the network.”
Jonathan Braniff adds: “IBM’s contribution isn’t just technology—they have helped us design commercial models that make it easy for us to get to market. For example, instead of insisting on complex licensing arrangements for the Informix software, we can offer convenient service-based models that align with our customers’ needs.”
Niraj Kadakia, Global Business Development & Sales Executive, Embedded Analytics - IoT & Cross Industries at IBM, comments: “IBM Embedded Analytics and IBM Informix database teams are working with SmartAxiom to make IoT device and data security efficient on edge networks. SmartAxiom’s unique ‘skinny’ blockchain ledgers and Informix automatic data compression are two examples of how we conserve computer resources on low-cost edge devices.”
Building an unbreakable chainSmartAxiom sees huge potential for its offering to make IoT solutions viable, especially for industries that currently see IoT security as a major barrier to entry.
Amit Biyani gives an example: “Manufacturers could gain a huge advantage by instrumenting their production line with IoT sensors to improve reliability and enable predictive maintenance. Production downtime can cost as much as USD 100,000 per minute, so the potential savings are huge. However, if manufacturers aren’t confident the IoT devices are secure, they won’t take the risk. Our solution puts these opportunities back on the table by helping to ensure that the IoT can’t be used as a vector for attack.”
The decentralized nature of SmartAxiom’s solution means that even if one device is attacked and compromised, the problem will not spread across the network. The other nodes will recognize that the affected device has been tampered with, and will isolate it to prevent further damage. IT teams can then work to fix the problem, without needing to take the entire IoT solution offline.
Gunjan Karun adds: “IBM Informix has given us the platform we needed to turn our vision into a reality and get to market quickly. With other databases, we would have needed to spend months developing features that Informix provides out of the box. This has cut our development time by 30 percent. Informix also runs 20 percent faster on our gateway devices and uses 25 percent less memory than the alternative databases we tested.”
Jonathan Braniff says: “We’re looking towards a future where businesses use tens of thousands of IoT sensors to monitor their operations, generating terabytes of data per day. With SmartAxiom’s solution, we can capture and store that data securely across a mesh of low-cost gateway devices that distribute the load evenly and avoid single points of failure.
Amit Biyani concludes: “By making data processing on the edge of the network secure, efficient and reliable, IBM Informix helps us usher in a new age of real-time operational analytics—while protecting these new IoT networks from the threat of cybercrime, espionage and terrorism. Together with IBM, we’re helping our clients turn the promises of IoT into a reality.”
SmartAxiom is an emerging dynamic company focused on leading the world in IoT security, connectivity, and insight. The company’s innovative IoT products seamlessly integrate, transform, harmonize, manage, and secure smart-things-in-the-cloud.
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