How blockchain technology can immutably prove the integrity of the vast quantities of IOT data powering businesses

An era widely described as the fourth industrial revolution is well underway, as the Internet of Things provides businesses with the means to monitor and gain mastery over the environments they operate in – gaining vast amounts of business value in the process.

Humans are effectively handing over responsibility and trust to sensors and computing systems on a grand scale. But what happens when the data gathered from these automated systems is corrupted, recorded inaccurately, or interpreted in the wrong way? And when such vast quantities of data are being created by IOT devices, how do we find a way to store this valuable information and sift through it to prove an event recorded by a machine (or a human’s interpretation of an event recorded by a machine) was right or wrong?

As the amount of IOT data in the world – and its value – continues to grow, and as the compliance requirements organisations face become more stringent, the ability to prove the provenance of IOT data, and to immutably prove its integrity, becomes increasingly important.

Leaps of faith

As things currently stand, if a single organisation holds a set of data, other parties with an interest in that data (such as regulators, courts, other legal entities, or even other areas of an organisation) often have a choice of either spending significant amounts of money interrogating the data, or simply trusting in its integrity.

This might require several leaps of faith: that the data is recorded accurately; that the machines used to gather the data worked properly; that no one in the company has changed or tampered with the data; and that the organisation’s security is tight enough to guarantee that its databases haven’t been compromised.

A solution is needed to immutably guarantee the integrity and provenance of IOT data so businesses, regulators, courts, individuals, and other parties can trust that data is complete, accurate and unchanged. Furthermore, when so much data is being generated and recorded, the solution needs to be highly efficient and accessible.

A blockchain solution

Fortunately, as the dawn of the IOT era breaks, the world is also waking up to the inestimable potential of blockchain technology.

Blockchain technology’s ability to permanently record all the steps in a process is already widely known. But even more excitingly, the blockchain can be leveraged to build an application that provides immediate and immutable legal proof demonstrating a specific chain of events. Such an application can therefore be used to prove the integrity of IOT data.

Here’s an example of how a blockchain-based data-provenance application could work:

Let’s assume data is recorded from an offshore oil rig, consisting of many connected components and sensors that form an IOT network. Accurate records of automated actions, and the reasons why those actions occurred, can prove crucial. For example, in the case of a large oil spill, immutable data could provide an action-by-action account of what led to the spill.

Alternatively, an immutable store of information could provide vital business intelligence to the oil company in question. For example, it might want to re-position an offshore rig in response to input from tide and wind sensors. Storing this information on an immutable blockchain solution helps to minimise the risk of data corruption, ensuring that the company has an accurate data set to work from – saving money for the business and even lives.

As the fourth industrial gathers pace, a method to immutably guarantee the provenance of data, and to efficiently share this proof with various parties, is required. The blockchain provides the platform on which such a solution can be built.