Atonomi Offers Security Protocol for Blockchain Data Sharing

By Claire Swedberg

RFID and IoT data could be shared across a network with the Atonomi solution like a marketplace, to ensure secure and immutable data with blockchain.


Blockchain technology, which is making the news most prominently for the bitcoin digital currency, is being embraced by some users of radio frequency identification (RFID) and other Internet of Things (IoT) technologies as a way to share, store and analyze sensor data on a public ledger. Because the cost of storing data on many blockchains is high, the IoT data may be stored off-chain, with data being written to the blockchain, to provide consensus verifying that the off-chain data is valid and to provide the data has not been tampered with.

One company, Atonomi Network, aims to provide the platform to enable a public blockchain for the IoT industry. The firm offers a crypto-security protocol to enable trust and identity validation between IoT devices. The service, Atonomi says, acts as an intersection between blockchain and the IoT.

Blockchain, developed for bitcoin applications, enables public ledgers of those cryptocurrency transactions, but also offers a variety of applications for the IoT. Rather than exchanging currency for purchases, for instance, blockchain could securely store sensor or RFID tag read data, encrypted for security, and share that information only with authorized parties. That could make IoT-based data safe from hackers, the company explains.

The advantage for the Internet of Things is twofold, according to Bill McBeath, the chief research officer at ChainLink Research. It offers validation based on a consensus, among all blockchain parties, that the data is consistent with what should be expected, and that it is immutable—once the data is captured and stored, it cannot be changed. That provides an un-tamperable guarantee that the data is accurate, McBeath says, adding that without something like blockchain, any wireless transmission could potentially be open to hacks.

“All it takes is one weak link in the chain for hackers to begin an exploit,” McBeath says. “Building very strong security in some areas, while doing very little in others—such as protecting against social engineering—is an invitation to trouble.” Provided there is a sufficient level of participation in the consensus process validating the data as it is written, a blockchain would ensure that data remains secure and is highly resistant to hacking, he notes, due to its immutable nature.

There are still limitations, however, in terms of speed and efficiency. The validation process for each transaction can consume time and energy, McBeath says. The data must be shared with others, and the approved players on the platform help to confirm the validity of the data capture, which takes time and processing energy. The consensus process—and thus the cost and performance of writing to the blockchain—varies widely across different types of blockchain technologies. What’s more, a means to properly share secure data has not been fully defined. In these early days of blockchain technology, says David Fragale, Atonomi’s co-founder, “There are major vulnerabilities as the volume of data continues to grow in disparate data stacks.”

However, blockchain platforms are growing exponentially. In early 2017, McBeath reports, there were 600 different cryptocurrencies, whereas now there are more than 1,500, as companies launch their own blockchain projects. According to CoinMarketCap, there are 25 cryptocurrencies with a market cap that’s greater than $1 billion, including bitcoin, Ethereum and IOTA.

Atonomi Network is a six-month-old startup that spun off from IoT security provider CENTRI Technology. Atonomi serves as the Ethereum blockchain provider of the crypto-security protocol for IoT devices. (Ethereum is one of the pioneer platforms in blockchain technology that enables data to be transferred between accounts.) The company, Fragale says, is building off relationships it already has through CENTRI’s customer base.

By its nature, McBeath explains, blockhain is a decentralized, distributed system with data validated and stored redundantly across participating nodes on each blockchain. However, because of the proliferation of types of blockchain protocols, and different instances of blockchains (even if they use the same protocol), there is a problem of disparate siloes of information. That, however, creates interoperability problems, Fragale notes. “What blockchain brought was the ability to transfer information securely,” he states, but it did not solve interoperability problems.

Atonomi, built on the Ethereum platform, claims it solves that problem by providing a vast, powerful distributed network. The firm has a manufacturer whitelist process which companies can use to bring their own devices into that network. “This key step establishes manufacturer provenance on the Ethereum blockchain,” Fragale says. And, he adds, Atonomi uses its own patented software through its relationship with CENTRI Technology to securely store sensitive data on the public blockchain without the risk of exposing private information.

With its blockhain platform, Fragale says, “Atonomi is effectively creating a marketplace for IoT data by providing an open-source model that rewards participants for their contributions.” This includes writing device data to the network, building IoT solutions or downloading the latest software upgrades for a device.

The first deployment of the Atonomi blockchain network is being accomplished by Swytch IO, which provides solutions for monitoring renewable energy production at the source and rewarding producers with tokens that can be cashed in for flat or digital currencies. The energy company will use the Atonomi Network to provide its microgrid solution.

The Swytch platform will employ open-source algorithms to verify clean energy production, then reward such behavior in the form of a token. The aim is to incentivize investment in renewable and sustainable assets, such as large-scale solar and wind energy projects, in both smart cities and smart homes. The Atonomi Network will serve as the security infrastructure for the Swytch platform, thereby ensuring advanced trust and identity validation for the connected devices within the Swytch network.

While Swytch is Atonomi’s first partner, Fragale says, Atonomi expects to work with other companies as well, to establish what it calls low-level protocols for blockchain data to be shared with multiple data users. “We see ourselves at the bottom of the pyramid,” he explains. “We’re trying to enable an ecosystem where all parties are incentivized.”

The company is focusing some of its efforts on the medical space, such as managing and sharing biometric data collected by wearables, to create a secure way for doctors and patients to access and share health data. According to Fragale, Atonomi could also benefit smart-city installations and consumer appliances.

In the case of home appliances, for instance, those appliance manufacturers could install sensors and use the Atonomi Network platform to share data with other vendors of other home devices. The blockchain would then enable them to confirm the identities of all machines and sensors seeking to enter the blockchain, and securely share data. In the meantime, a history of all data collected is stored, along with any transactions.

Beyond health-care and energy deployments, McBeath cites use cases in supply chain management. Blockchain provides assurances regarding the origin and chain of custody of a product, makes recalls faster and more precise, tracks the freshness of produce and meat—thereby reducing waste and spoilage—and could potentially result in fewer contamination incidents in the food industry. It could also be used for tracking and managing international shipments and all of the associated documentation, compliance and processes, he adds, such as inspections, customs and insurance.

McBeath imagines retailers, manufacturers, logistics providers and distributors all being part of various purpose-built blockchains, many using IoT data. Atonomi intends to offer just such a platform, Fragale says. The company is now in pilots or discussions with several IoT partners to develop the platform for users.