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Internet Of Things For Defensive Assets: Securing Volatile Items On The Blockchain




Visible Assets, Inc. designs wireless tags to track weapons, missiles, and other high-risk materials for the US defense industry. The company has automated the inventory process through the introduction of AccuAudit IO, a blockchain verified database.

In addition to self-driving cars and appliances that replenish groceries, the merging of the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain technology can be used to track and audit the storage of high-risk items used for defense, such as explosives, automatic weapons, and radioactive material. Visible Assets, Inc. is a company leading the mission to safeguard these items by providing automated wireless asset visibility and security networks. On January 25, 2017, the company published a press release, announcing AccuAudit’s integration with their IoT product framework and wireless auto-id platform.

RuBee Tags

RuBee tags, a product of Visible Assets, Inc., are a packet-based wireless technology that can be attached or embedded into any steel product such as jet engines or structural aircraft parts. The RuBee IO framework turns the steel of an object into a high-performance antenna with a 100 percent reliable read accuracy. The tags are magnetic, therefore do not emit radio frequencies to transmit signals, and serve as an alternative to RTLS and RFID tags that produce readable emanations. This eliminates what’s known as “line-of-sight,” meaning the devices won’t need to rely on an unobstructed signal path. With these unique features in place, RuBee tags have been deemed safe to use on explosives and nuclear weapons by the US Department of Energy (DOE) and Department of Defense (DOD) “with no tempest, target or eavesdropping risk.

RuBee tags have been intentionally designed to be short-range systems, allowing for real-time accountability within five feet of where an asset is supposed to be - if the asset gets out of range, an alarm will sound. Most assets are tagged with a range of five to 14 feet from an antenna, which is sufficient enough for items being transported from a holding space to a truck. In the event of transport, the vehicle would be housed with an antenna so that guards can monitor the tags en route and receive transmitted data over the local network in real time. This is especially critical for stored explosives that are close to reaching “Net Exploding Mass” (the calculation that determines how many explosives can be stored in one place safely). When this critical mass is reached, explosives must be securely transported from one facility to another.

According to Visible Assets’ whitepaper, the personal Internet of Things (Bluetooth and Wi-Fi) maintains a 90 percent RF read accuracy that can be detected from 50 kilometers away. In the world of defense, a 90 percent read accuracy at any amount of detection is too low. RuBee’s 100 percent reliable read accuracy is the first of its kind specifically designed for harsh environments such as deserts, combat areas, and under water. The RuBee batteries have a life span of five to 30 years, produce very little power and electromagnetic interference, are safe on humans, and have been installed in 1200 sites worldwide with over 20 million hours of 100 percent read rates.

Defense Audits

While the existence of nuclear warheads and missiles is public knowledge, the details of how they are housed are less widely known. Because government-owned arms and explosives are stored in bunkers, armories, and other secure facilities known as “stores,” they are often hidden from prying eyes and necessitate meticulous routine audits to keep track of the volatile inventory. According to Visible Assets CEO, John Stevens, traditional manual audits have required that a “storekeeper,” with pencil and paper, tally and cross-check for accuracy while being accompanied by two armed guards. This outdated method is starkly contrasted by the high-tech items being inventoried. Physical audits of armories can be required two to three times per day to inventory small arms, while audits on nuclear warheads and radioactive material can be needed as often as every hour. All of this manual checking costs the US government millions of dollars per year in labor and logistical costs and may be prone to human error and audit inaccuracy.

A Blockchain Solution

AccuAudit utilizes a private and internal RuBee IO blockchain, based on SHA-256 encryption hash and a dot-tag database that works in conjunction with the RuBee IO framework. When a storekeeper signs out a weapon to a guard, a block is created and that event is documented. With a digital signature in place, the recording of this event exists on the immutable RuBee blockchain.

In another example, if a weapons rack houses 100 individual guns, then every asset on the rack would be fitted with an appropriate tag and the rack itself would be mounted with one or more antennas. RuBee’s wireless auto-ID platform sends a signal in the form of a 32-bit ID that essentially asks the assets, “are you here in this room?” The response from the tags takes 10 to 15 milliseconds to reach AccuAudit’s blockchain, which acts like a tape measure – the digital signature determines where the asset is located exactly, resulting in an accurate authentication of the item. This enables the auditors to easily determine if an asset is missing and which slot on the rack it should belong in.

Auditors can also leave behind a final SHA-256 hash as a reference tag or, as Stevens comically puts it, “a block turd” as a verification trail.

Stevens told ETHNews:

“Every time we do an audit, we have to write the last blockchain to reference tags that are contained within the facility. That guarantees that we can cross check, physically, that the blockchain and the block are valid – that someone hasn’t inserted a fake block – we can validate that this block is real because we can check the actual tags. By writing the last hash to the reference tags, it gives us an independent check that the physical objects are really there – that the audit that has been blockchained has been carried out on those physical items. That’s the last workaround we had to do to prove that our technology is not an ‘Internet of Threats.’

With AccuAudit, every time there’s an event that becomes a block, we do a 256 hash from the last audit that’s incorporated into the next block. Then we do another 256 hash. Receivers of audits can look at the blockchain and look at the block values and know with a good amount of certainty that the information is correct. We have no proof-of-work or [any] of those other burdens. We only need the blockchain to show that the audit has not been modified or tampered with.”

The total time for this process runs three to four minutes from start to finish, greatly outpacing a hand-checked manual audit. In addition to this procedure, RuBee tags can be placed as “Door Guards” to trigger an alarm if an unauthorized asset leaves or enters a facility, and can be fitted to weapons, laptops, cell phones, ID cards, etc.

Internal Security

Visible Assets performs all of its audits internally, due to the secure nature of the facilities and the dangerous material they house, eliminating the need for an outside third party verifier. Virtually all of the defense contractors that Visible Assets works with use data diodes, air-gapped networks, or firewalls that create a virtual air gap, and only allow data to travel in one direction for verification.

“We don’t have public nodes that can share these blockchains and authenticate them in real time. We can authenticate them internally, which we do so we can have other internal nodes that share the blockchain as it’s built – so there are two or three records of it someplace. It’s not that these are not on the internet or connected, they’re air-gapped – these are super sensitive infrastructures. In these IT rooms, there’s no such thing as the cloud – the cloud doesn’t exist. The security on the servers and sites where this is taking place are immense with armed guards. These are important places where they don’t want to see any security risks. This is true all over the world.”

Other Industries

At the moment, Visible Assets is focused on military defense and high-risk material for big names including global aerospace defense and security giant, Lockheed Martin. Besides multibillion-dollar defense contractors, interested businesses are companies seeking to tag steel plates used to cover potholes on US roads and highways. Additionally, businesses that track sandalwood in India (valued at $5,000 per log), and auditors of Quebec’s maple syrup industry (which had as much as $30 million of syrup stolen, resulting in a decrease of their overall global market share) may get on board. RuBee tag “Door Guards” could also be used in the private sector for locations such as schools, airports, and other areas of safety concern.

Ethereum Potentials

For now, AccuAudit’s needs for smart contracts is nonexistent. However, future use cases may deem it necessary and useful to integrate a private Ethereum blockchain.

“We looked at Ethereum and we certainly could have used that and still can. I don’t think there’s anything necessarily logistically complex about using an Ether hash. The DOD, NSA, and CIA – everybody has deemed that SHA-256 has not been cracked, that’s why we use it.”

What’s important to take away is the rigorous vetting process blockchains have had to undergo in order to audit the world’s most dangerous weapons and volatile assets. Top government agencies like the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and the U.S. Military continue to explore the ways blockchain technology can secure our nation’s defensive assets, which equates to more research & development funding within the ecosystem. As the public and private sectors work on the individual challenges specific to their needs, a lateral forging of innovation is likely to occur, creating more secure networks and smart objects for public use and boosting interest in the Internet of Things as a whole. As far as AccuAudit, the potential for the private sector to adopt this system or its similar counterparts is a very real possibility. Other volatile materials not monitored by defense contractors have already begun to use the RuBee framework and wireless auto-ID platform.

“It’s not just for defense. We have another customer that has items in a facility that is regulated by the FDA and they have to prove that the items are clean and sterile. The assets possess data and are embedded with tags. We provide them a history of the pedigree and we put it on the blockchain and do an audit that way.”    

To learn more about AccuAudit and RuBee, visit the Visible Assets, Inc. website.

Los Silva

Los Silva is a writer and filmmaker who has collaborated with tech and design companies. His interest in Ethereum stems from emerging creative applications that allow artists control of their work through blockchain technology.

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