At the Accenture Liquid Studio, we work to provide our clients solutions to the issues they face moving to a digital economy. We work with cutting-edge and emerging technologies to scope out proof of concept projects, providing end-to-end services to develop scalable solutions. One of the technologies we are working on is blockchain, a distributed database that maintains a continuously-growing list of transaction records hardened against tampering and revision, for non-financial applications.
If you follow technology news, you probably have heard of this term that companies are taking a particular interest in due to the increasing need for securing transactions over the Internet.
Blockchain implications beyond the financial sector
While blockchain is generating a lot of excitement in the financial sector, we at the Liquid Studio believe that blockchain, as a design pattern, has the potential to become one of the key elements that will secure the Internet of Things tomorrow.
Typically today, to secure a transaction between two machines, systems have to rely on a third party to authenticate the identity of each participant, establish the authority of the requestor to make the request, and create a trust between those systems.
In a world of ever increasing security threats, this model may not represent best thinking anymore.
For example, in the case of Denial-Of-Service attacks or power failures, the unavailability of the system can cause transactions to stop and the network to shut down and no communications are allowed until the system is restored.
Blockchain offers an alternative to this approach by replicating a ledger across the network that contains both the authorized parties’ identity but also their history of transactions. With this method, a transaction such as the transfer of telematics data for instance, can be executed between two machines without involving a central authority. Both the originator and the destination know each other thanks to the ledger and the record of the transaction itself is replicated across the network so it is available from other sources as well. Even in case of crashes, the system is able to self-heal.
A central authority is a big target for hackers
In traditional models, if the central authority is hacked, the business impact can be massive. For instance, in May 2015, hackers gained access to the IRS and stole information on 330,000 accounts. Centralized systems are big targets that are both difficult and expensive to defend.
By uniquely encrypting each transaction and sharing the records across the network, blockchain technology helps spread the risk, making each node in the network less appealing to hacks, and more difficult to break.
When the Internet is not available
Accenture and our teams at the Liquid Studio are helping clients with innovative ways of gaining control over hard-to-reach resources, such as water level sensors in the Amazonian basin. We know first-hand that Internet access is not always a given. Sometimes, to validate the source and the data collected in remote locations, using a central authority system is just not an option.
Blockchain designs can be used to identify and validate transmissions over mesh networks, where the data is relayed from the source to the destination using one or more transit nodes that can validate the source and route the transaction.
A practical example of blockchain value
A manufacturer and operator of heavy machinery asked Accenture to create a solution that would allow the secure transfer of telematics data from vehicles in remote locations back to the headquarters. The solution needed to allow this information to be transmitted:
in areas where there is no connection to the Internet, even through cellular networks
in construction sites where it is impractical to deploy long-range antennas
in a way that guarantees that the data received at headquarters hasn’t been tampered with
in a way that guarantees the origin of the vehicle that transmitted the data
Using a Liquid Studio rapid prototyping device on board the vehicles, we created a solution that creates a Wi-Fi network. The devices could then connect to each other’s Wi-Fi as vehicles move around the construction site. After connecting, the devices would then exchange telematics data over a lightweight implementation of a blockchain, in a highly encrypted manner. The first vehicle reaching proximity of the headquarter Wi-Fi network could then connect and deliver the payload of all the vehicle telematics data collected. Because of the uniqueness of the transactions, even when subsequent vehicles delivered their payload, the data is never duplicated and only unique data transmissions are recorded.
Using this method, the proof of concept project developed by the studio team effectively connected all the systems back to the headquarters, by using the shortest possible path, in a completely secure fashion.