With growing volumes of data in the Internet of Things (IoT), a key issue is assuring the integrity of that data and that it has not been subject to any form of security breach.
Whether it is in the operation of an IoT connected device, such as a wind turbine or smart meter, or the business value such as billing figures that is derived from analytics, the accuracy and consistency of the data over its life cycle is crucial to avoid problems such as outages and to maintain the financial wellbeing of the enterprise.
Ericsson’s Blockchain Data Integrity, which is now commercially available on GE's Predix platform for IoT applications, is aimed to fill this role by ensuring that data is fully auditable and compliant.
Predix with its growing number of energy and other industry IoT applications, is aimed to connect industrial equipment, analyse data and deliver real time insights into assets and operations.
In 2016 GE released the Digital Power Plant to improve the efficiency and output of traditional power plants and wind farms.
The latest suite of applications just released, named ‘Digital Utility’, is focussed on energy trading and connects energy traders with “valuable, real-time plant productivity and capacity data to enable more profitable, analytics-informed trading,” according to a GE statement.
According to an Ericsson blog, today’s security threats are multi-dimensional. Perimeter-centric security solutions were designed to protect threats from outside the network. They focused on confidentiality and access control but have proved inefficient for threats inside the network, where most data breaches occur.
Modern day attacks exploit weak security controls inside the network perimeter, often entering in legitimate ways, but lying undetected before exfiltrating the data they need. Digital supply chains typical in IoT applications have multiple entry points that broaden the attack surface, i.e. more network ports are opened, while data from diverse, often unauthenticated sources, results in additional risks.
By extending security solutions to include data integrity, the havoc wreaked by data breaches can be contained.
Blockchain data management
According to an Ericsson statement, Blockchain Data Integrity uses KSI (Keyless Signature Infrastructure) backed by blockchain to automate the generation and verification of tamperproof, irreversible signatures in order to guarantee the integrity of the software supply chain across data, system configuration, firmware and field operations.
The service is delivered through RESTful APIs and supports an independently verifiable chain of custody for data pipelines and workflows, from data capture to storage, without reliance on central trust authorities or a public key infrastructure.
“Through the use of the Predix platform, Ericsson's Blockchain microservice provides assurance that data captured during field inspections and/or from IoT systems is reliable and consistent, even as it is transferred across systems,” says Brandon K. Parker, Product Director, Asset Performance Management & Analytics, at GE Transportation Digital Solutions.
“This is especially important in both heavily regulated industries and in analytical environments where outcomes are at the mercy of the accuracy of the data.”
Other features claimed include enabling of continuous monitoring and tamper detection, massive scalability with consistent performance, and portability across geographies, organisational boundaries and service providers.
Energy trading on IoT
According to the GE statement, the basis for the Digital Utility solutions is the rapidly changing energy markets. Low demand growth, falling wholesale power prices, excess capacity from the growth of renewable energy sources and long-term investments in thermal generation are greatly impacting power and utility businesses’ profitability.
For example, in Europe last year 86% of new energy capacity added in the region came from renewable sources. The preference for, and intermittency of, those resources is dramatically changing the role of traditional fuels, and led European utilities to spend more than €1bn on grid balancing services.
The trend is likely to repeat itself globally with 138.5GW of renewable power capacity added worldwide in 2016.
For energy businesses to remain profitable means responding quickly to short-term trading opportunities, maximising capacity for peak demand periods and strategically planning to address long-term supply and demand trends. That requires traditional fuel types to respond quickly and flexibly to demand and supply fluctuations.
The Digital Utility suite is built on what GE calls Digital Twins, or dynamic digital representations of industrial assets – in this case leveraging more than 100,000 across generation, transmission and distribution to “deliver insights about efficiency, capacity, emissions, flexibility and availability that traders can use to bid with confidence in long-term, day-ahead and short-term markets.”