Exploring the Role of Blockchain in Industrial IoT Systems (Part 2)

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In case you missed my first blog on this topic, go read it now… I’ll wait. To remind the rest of you, I discussed how RTI's research group is approaching blockchain for a specific class of real-time operational systems use cases. These use cases stray from the typical applications we've seen in that we consider the data on the Connext Databus to be "ground truth". It doesn't need to be validated prior to adding it to the blockchain because we trust the data and we aren't transacting anything. Yet, a blockchain is still worth considering because we have multiple parties that do not trust each other.

As one very basic example that we've been working on with a customer in the Oil & Gas domain, we architected a lab prototype (see the image below) that monitored the use and performance of equipment on an oil rig. What they wanted to do was to ensure that the equipment was always operating within the terms of a lease agreement. Utilizing the Connext Databus, which is already widely deployed within many industrial systems, we could readily monitor many aspects of the equipment's operation including various temperatures, operation times, etc. The system would then store all of this data, in real-time, into the blockchain while simultaneously analyzing it. This data could then be compared against a codified version of the lease agreement (also called a smart contract). When violations were detected, as a simple demonstration of an action, a violation event would be generated.

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Exploration of Novel Designs to Store & to Validate Sensor Data From An Oil Platform On A Blockchain In Real-Time

Now you might ask why blockchain would be needed here. It's really all about a lack of trust across all of the companies involved in an oil rig. Who is to say that the equipment was used for 12 hours instead of 10, or that it exceeded the 250°C operating temperature limit -- without irrefutable proof? Whose data do you trust? Any individual company could tweak their copy of the data to avert blame for equipment damage, or an explosion. Blockchain provides a solution. Of course, the actual solution will depend upon the use case, so these examples are simply to allow us to provide a general introduction to our efforts and to get you thinking about use cases that might be relevant to you.

The Bigger Picture - Trusted Data

What blockchain offers you here is trust in the data at rest. However, that's not enough. We must assure that the data that gets to the blockchain can also be trusted. If the data going into the ledger has already been tampered with, then a blockchain is useless! The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) has created a holistic Security Maturity Model (SMM), which provides excellent guidance on securing your systems. We recommend that you look at the reference. The core piece that we are focusing on here is the end-to-end security of your data (see "Data Protection" under "Enablement"). The SMM discusses the need to protect the data in use, in motion, and at rest.

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Building Trust - Guidance from The IIC’s Security Maturity Model (SMM) Hierarchy

As you know, RTI Connext DDS Secure will secure the data in motion; and, we are working on integrating support for securing data in use - e.g., secure enclaves, trusted boot, etc. This will help you to address your end-to-end data protection needs. Once that is achieved, you and your contractors or business partners should have much more trust in your data.

Improving the trust in your data offers several potential benefits:

  • Process Automation - It may provide sufficient confidence to (further) automate your real-time decision-making, which will drive down costs and improve performance.
  • Reduced Risks - Securing the data will minimize the chance of cyber fraud, data tampering, and reduce both legal and economic risks.
  • Increased Business Trust - The businesses that interact within a blockchain-based system will have increased trust because accidental or intentional fraud will be less likely.
  • Accident/Litigation Clarity. With the operational and environmental data stored immutably, and its provenance assured, the information stored within the ledgers will provide the ground truth data needed to help determine the root cause of problems that occur within a system.
  • Other ideas?

Do you think that any of these benefits might compel you to consider using blockchain? Let us know in the comments section. As we continue our research in this area, we’re interested in hearing from you!

 

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