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Comcast Looking to Link Blockchain to the Connected Home

After applying blockchain techniques to TV advertising, Comcast is now forging another link to the digital trust technology – the connected home.

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Comcast hasn’t announced timing on a commercial deployment of how it’s using blockchain technology in the connected home, but its Comcast Labs is already headed downstream in terms of developing these capabilities.

Blockchain establishes a trusted way to share digital information from multiple entities while also keeping that core data protected and validated even as those records change, essentially creating a disintermediation of a chain of data ledgers via a distributed, decentralized structure. In addition to advertising, it’s also being used for cryptocurrency.

Applying blockchain in the connected home is emerging as consumers continue to deploy and attempt to automate a wide range of smart home devices, including thermostats, locks, and lights. Comcast is taking a closer look at it in the context of services like Xfinity Home, which works with Comcast’s own equipment and a growing mix of third-party smart home products, and xFi, its whole-home WiFi networking management platform.

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And that’s also giving rise to the need for consumers to allow friends and family to use some of those products, perhaps on a temporary basis – from the physical world this would be akin to letting a trusted friend borrow the house keys while the owner is out of town, then retrieve them when the owner returns.

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In the context of the smart home, users might want to enable their kids to unlock the home’s smart locks with an app, but not give them access to the home’s security cameras, or remotely change the thermostat settings. Or the user might want to let a neighbor be able to enter the garage to check on the house during a vacation, but not give them control of all the other functions of the smart home. But a deeper level of authentication and security are needed to pull that off.

“By 2020, Americans will have an average of 50 Wi-Fi-connected devices in their homes,” Noopur Davis, chief information security officer at Comcast Cable, explained in a blog post about this blockchain-facing work. “In such ultra-connected homes, there are any number of situations in which we will want friends, or family members or guests to be able to control some features of our connected homes, without giving them access to everything.”

But today’s smart home systems “don’t have a way to provide that sort of pinpoint access,” Davis added. “We can give our kids access to the whole system via an app, or keep the control to ourselves, but not pick and choose exactly what devices and services we want to make available or keep off limits.”

But to enable that level of access, the information security team of Comcast Labs has been working with the digital home engineering team of Srindhar Solur, Comcast’s SVP of product development for Xfinity Home and IoT, an exec late of HP who joined the cable op in 2016.

The resulting approach, Comcast notes, aims to put the control of the digital home in the hands of the customer, allowing them to grant, revoke and otherwise tailor access to any IoT device in a private and secure way. Comcast is developing a wide range of use-cases, starting with products such as home security cameras.

The model Comcast is developing enables the creation of a “unique digital identity for each user, which will be associated with a permission-based blockchain ledger or ‘trunk,’” explained Davis, a former exec with Intel.

“Customers can then associate individual IoT devices –‘leaves’– with their ledger and then set and revoke permissions as they see fit,” she wrote. “The beauty of this approach is that because blockchains are decentralized you can grant and revoke access dynamically from anywhere in a secure way.”