We already know that in the internet of things, devices, sensors and cloud services all connect to get things done—things like security surveillance, collecting and recording weather information, enabling live bodycams on police officers, connected parking meters and so on.
All these use cases can theoretically be hacked by bad actors, which opens some opportunities for new security approaches.
Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup Xage Security, which launched itself and its product in December, has a few revolutionary ideas on how to counter these very real security issues.
Xage (pronounced “zage”) describes itself as the first and only blockchain-protected security platform for the industrial internet of things. Go here for a deep-dive definition of blockchain and what potential it brings to enterprise security.
Blockchain All About Trust
Blockchain is all about trust—namely, trust among vetted partners; or in Xage’s case, trusted devices—in business transactions. Blockchain is a type of data structure that enables identifying and tracking transactions digitally and sharing this information across a distributed network of computers, creating a trusted network.
The distributed ledger technology offered by blockchain provides a transparent and secure means for tracking the ownership and transfer of assets anonymously. Users cannot hide anything in a blockchain; if you do, you’ll lose credibility, and out you will go.
Xage creates a trusted foundation for secure cooperation and data exchange between machines, people and applications. Xage distributes authentication and private data across the network of devices, creating a tamper-proof fabric for communication, authentication and trust that ensures security at scale, CEO Duncan Greatwood,a former Apple executive, told eWEEK.
Xage supports any-to-any communication, secures user-based and machine-to-machine access to existing industrial systems, works at the edge even with irregular connectivity, and gets stronger and stronger with every device added to the network.
Led by a team of security, industrial digitization, and software experts, the company has been operating behind the scenes for the past 21 months, perfecting its technology and securing major customers and partners, including ABB, Dell EMC and Itron.
Secret Sauce is in the ‘Industrial Edge’
Most of the company’s tech goes into devices at the “industrial edge,” Greatwood said. There is a cloud component in the system that provides alerting, monitoring and some central data processing, but most of the blockchain software is in the devices themselves.
“One example of an industrial deployment we’re doing is that we’re enabling smart meters to talk to each other locally inside a neighborhood, so that if there’s an outage or power problem, they can determine the extent of it,” Greatwood said. “They can enable power to be rerouted, and they can communicate directly with their local substations. Often these transactions happen so quickly that the changes are invisible to the consumers themselves.
“Whether it’s utility or a factory production line, we’re seeing this opportunity to become much more productive and efficient through this any-to-any machine communication and to allow the machines to make their own decisions amongst themselves.”
Another use case is smart trains. “A smart train can’t operate using a slow or non-existent cloud connection. Same with an autonomous car; these need to have autonomous systems operating where they exist,” Greatwood said.
Security is one of the foundations for IIOT, and conventional enterprise-IT security models of building walls and patching holes simply don’t work for these vast, dynamic networks, Greatwood said.
Xage Already Working with Large Companies
From modest beginnings and a full-time staff of only about 20 people, Xage is already working with customers and partners across the utility, transportation, manufacturing and energy industries. Projects include distributed command and control, automated device deployment and authenticated remote data access.
For example, Xage is working with ABB Wireless on power and automation projects requiring distributed security. The company also has partnered with Dell to deliver its security services on Dell IoT Gateways and the EdgeX platform for the energy-production industry.
Xage is also working with Itron, a utility technology solutions firm, to enable intelligent power-optimization applications by creating trust and controlling access between smart meters and power distribution infrastructure, Greatwood said.
“The industry needs to work autonomously and in real time. You can’t be dependent upon links back to the cloud,” Greatwood said. ”We deploy on gateways, we put software into devices themselves when we can—we have agents for doing that—but if we can’t, the gateway will proxy it into the fabric.”
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