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In the last decades, modern societies are experiencing an increasing adoption of interconnected smart devices. This revolution involves not only canonical devices such as smartphones and tablets, but also simple objects like light bulbs. Named as the Internet of Things (IoT), this ever-growing scenario offers enormous opportunities in many areas of modern society, especially if joined by other emerging technologies such as, for example, the blockchain. Indeed, the latter allows users to certify transactions publicly, without relying on central authorities or intermediaries. This work aims to exploit the scenario above by proposing a novel blockchain-based distributed paradigm to secure localization services, here defined as Internet of Entities (IoE). It represents a mechanism for the reliable localization of people and things, and it exploits the increasing number of existing wireless devices and the blockchain-based distributed ledger technology. Moreover, unlike most of the canonical localization approaches, it is strongly oriented towards the protection of the users' privacy. Finally, its implementation requires minimal efforts since it employs the existing infrastructures and devices, thus giving life to a new and wide data environment, exploitable in many domains, such as e-health, smart cities, and smart mobility.
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sensors
Article
A Blockchain-Based Distributed Paradigm to Secure
Localization Services
Roberto Saia* , Alessandro Sebastian Podda , Livio Pompianu , Diego Reforgiato Recupero
and Gianni Fenu


Citation: Saia,R.; Podda, A.S.;
Pompianu, L.; Reforgiato Recupero,
D.; Fenu, G. A Blockchain-Based
Distributed Paradigm to Secure
Localization Services. Sensors 2021,
21, 6814.
https://doi.org/10.3390/s21206814
Academic Editors: Georgios
Meditskos, Stefanos Vrochidis and
Ioannis Yiannis Kompatsiaris
Received: 9 August 2021
Accepted: 6 October 2021
Published: 13 October 2021
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Copyright: © 2021 by the authors.
Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.
This article is an open access article
distributed under the terms and
conditions of the Creative Commons
Attribution (CC BY) license (https://
creativecommons.org/licenses/by/
4.0/).
Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, University of Cagliari, Palazzo delle Scienze,
Via Ospedale 72, 09124 Cagliari, Italy; sebastianpodda@unica.it (A.S.P.); pompianu.livio@unica.it (L.P.);
diego.reforgiato@unica.it (D.R.R.); fenu@unica.it (G.F.)
*Correspondence: roberto.saia@unica.it; Tel.: +39-070-675-8755
This paper is an extension version of the conference paper: Saia, R., Carta, S., Recupero, D. R., and Fenu, G.
Internet of entities (ioe): A blockchain-based distributed paradigm for data exchange between wireless-based
devices. In Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Sensor Networks, Prague, Czech Republic,
26–27 February 2019; pp. 77–84, doi:10.5220/0007379600770084.
Abstract:
In recent decades, modern societies are experiencing an increasing adoption of intercon-
nected smart devices. This revolution involves not only canonical devices such as smartphones and
tablets, but also simple objects like light bulbs. Named the Internet of Things (IoT), this ever-growing
scenario offers enormous opportunities in many areas of modern society, especially if joined by
other emerging technologies such as, for example, the blockchain. Indeed, the latter allows users
to certify transactions publicly, without relying on central authorities or intermediaries. This work
aims to exploit the scenario above by proposing a novel blockchain-based distributed paradigm to
secure localization services, here named the Internet of Entities (IoE). It represents a mechanism
for the reliable localization of people and things, and it exploits the increasing number of existing
wireless devices and blockchain-based distributed ledger technologies. Moreover, unlike most of the
canonical localization approaches, it is strongly oriented towards the protection of the users’ privacy.
Finally, its implementation requires minimal efforts since it employs the existing infrastructures and
devices, thus giving life to a new and wide data environment, exploitable in many domains, such as
e-health, smart cities, and smart mobility.
Keywords:
Internet of Things; Internet of Entities; mobile network; blockchain; distributed ledger;
localization
1. Introduction
Our everyday activities produce an ever increasing amount of information, as each
of them is accompanied by a large number of devices aimed at supporting us (e.g., smart-
bands, credit cards, home automation devices, and so on). Indeed, several authorita-
tive studies indicate that in 2025 the number of smartphones will reach about 7.5 billion
units, and the number of IoT devices in the same year will be 16.44 billion (https://www.
statista.com/statistics/1183457/iot-connected-devices-worldwide/statista.com) (accessed
on 01 September 2021). This scenario has been further revolutionized with the advent
of cryptocurrencies, in particular Bitcoin [
1
], which have traced a new paradigm for the
decentralization of services. A synergistic combination of security and anonymity is the
basis of their success, since this paradigm allows the users to exchange money without
involving trusted authorities as intermediates. The strategy behind this revolutionary way
to operate is mainly based on the exploitation of digital signature schemes, to implement a
fully-decentralized and immutable public ledger where all the transactions are recorded.
Such a ledger is known as the blockchain and involves a distributed consensus protocol
operating in a peer-to-peer network [2].
Sensors 2021,21, 6814. https://doi.org/10.3390/s21206814 https://www.mdpi.com/journal/sensors
Sensors 2021,21, 6814 2 of 24
The paradigm proposed in this work, here called Internet of Entities (IoE), revolves
around the wireless-based ecosystem. Some existing devices (hereinafter referred to as
trackers) are used to track the activity of other devices strictly associated with people
or things (hereinafter referred to as entities), registering the collected information in a
permanent way by leveraging the features offered by a blockchain-based distributed ledger.
Figure 1shows the placement of the proposed IoE paradigm with respect to the existing
network technologies. Notably, it is designed to require a minimum set of additional
functionalities for the existing devices (e.g., smart objects, smartphones, etc). In short, we
aim to combine a few entity data (i.e., unique identifier and sensors data) with a few tracker
data (e.g., timestamp,geographic location,sensors data, etc.) and store them in a blockchain-
based distributed ledger, to implement reliable tracking/localization services. Hence, for
devices such as smartphones and tablets, the required operations can be performed in a
pretty transparent way by installing a simple application, while for the IoT devices, they
only require a software update.
Mobile
network
IoT
network
Blockchain
network
IoE
INTERNET
Figure 1. IoE placement.
Furthermore, the proposed paradigm ensures the privacy of users, since only the
entity owner is able to associate its unique identifier to the related data registered by the
trackers on the remote ledger. In this sense, the possibility of involving one or more neighbor
entities, detected by the tracker near the entity, over a certain time window, leads to more
granular and accurate tracing results, without violating the anonymity of the involved
users.
Although tailored to the scope of localization, this approach can be also exploited in
other areas, such as e-health and smart cities. In the first case, the sensor data available for
trackers (e.g., humidity, temperature, light level, altitude, position, etc.) together with the
sensors available on the entities (e.g., heart rate, blood pressure, etc.) can be exploited to
evaluate the health status of an entity. Moreover, one of the advantages related to such a
configuration is the capability to monitor the interactions (even those latent) between the
entities and the environment. Similarly, in the context of smart cities, such an approach
helps to highlight latent aspects related to the interaction between users, otherwise difficult
to identify. In this sense, it offers a twofold advantage: it is able to discover latent charac-
teristics of the involved entities, and it is able to group them on the basis of certain criteria,
safeguarding their privacy.
In the light of the previous observations, we list below the primary scientific contribu-
tions of the IoE paradigm proposed in this work:
(i)
Definition of the entities and trackers concept as elements able to exchange their
role when they operate within a specific wireless-based environment;
(ii)
Formalization of data exchange methods between entities and trackers, and trackers
and blockchain-based distributed ledgers, in terms of both device identification and
communication protocols;
Sensors 2021,21, 6814 3 of 24
(iii)
Formalization of the data structures involved in the entities and trackers, and trackers
and blockchain-based distributed ledger communications.
In addition, since this work represents an extension of our previous one [
3
], we extended
the aforementioned contributions by adding the following ones:
(i)
A comprehensive discussion of the context and the scientific background in which
the paradigm proposed in the present work is placed;
(ii)
An extended formalization of the notions of entities and trackers, able to interchange
their roles, which operate within the wireless-based environment to provide secure
localization services;
(iii)
A timely definition of the interaction model and communication protocols between
entities,trackers and the blockchain-based distributed ledger, with the goal of reli-
ably and permanently recording tracking information in a verifiable fashion and
respecting their privacy;
(iv)
The identification of specific heuristics and strategies, to reconstruct the entities
movements by means of the history of positions stored on the distributed ledger;
(v)
A series of experiments aimed to verify and evaluate the practical feasibility of the
proposed IoE paradigm in a real-world scenario;
(vi)
An in-depth analysis and coverage of the potential usage applications, future
developments and implementation directions of such a paradigm.
We also notice that the adopted terminology (i.e., entities,trackers, and their operative
environment) is purely functional to the description, since it better exemplifies the features
of these components in the context of the proposed paradigm, therefore it can be different
from the canonical definitions of these elements (e.g., client, proxy, etc.).
The paper is organized as it follows: Section 2provides a detailed overview of the
background and related work; Section 3illustrates the adopted formal notation; Section 4
describes the approach formulation of the proposed paradigm; Section 5reports the results
of the experiments performed in order to verify and evaluate the practical feasibility of the
proposed paradigm in a real-world scenario; Section 6analyzes the potential applications,
limitations and future directions of IoE; Section 7closes the paper with some concluding
remarks.
2. Background and Related Work
This section aims to introduce the most important concepts exploited in this work. It
starts by offering an overview of the Mobile Network and Internet of Thing environments,
then delving into the notion of blockchain and its applications. Finally, it concludes with
some considerations on the security aspects related to the aforementioned scenarios.
2.1. Mobile Environment
The mobile (or cellular) environment is a radio network distributed over land areas
(defined cells), where each cell is served by at least one base station (i.e., a fixed-location
transceiver) [
4
]. This configuration divides the radio network into overlapping geographic
areas, producing a mesh of hexagonal cells served by a base station (
bs
) placed in the center
of the area. The cell overlapping grants a continuous radio coverage of the connected mobile
devices since each base station operates like an hub, retransmitting a mobile device’s radio
signal to another mobile device, and adopting different frequencies to avoid interferences.
Moreover, the base stations grant the connection between mobile devices when they move
between cells.
The proposed IoE paradigm can exploit such an environment since the radio coverage
allows data exchange between entities and trackers and between trackers and distributed
ledgers.
Sensors 2021,21, 6814 4 of 24
2.2. IoT Environment
The Internet of Things (IoT) environment involves a huge number of devices with
access to the Internet, and their number is constantly growing day by day. This is mainly
given by the concordance of two factors: the low cost of the devices and the significant
number of possible practical applications. Canonical devices such as computers, smart-
phones, and laptops are combined with other devices such as wearable ones, IP cameras,
and many others, generating a novel ecosystem where each element can communicate
without any geographical limitation.
This new communication paradigm, where each device can communicate with another
one, is simplified in Figure 2, which shows how it is possible to exchange information
between geographically distant devices using the Message Queue Telemetry Transport (MQTT)
protocol. In more detail, this process is performed by using two operations,
publish
and
subscript
. First, through the MQTT protocol, a device publishes data on a server
(conventionally called Broker). Then, other devices can receive the data by subscribing to a
topic (a channel mechanism that allows us selective intercommunication between devices)
where they are stored.
Device A
MQTT (Message Queue Telemetry
Transport) BROKER
TEMPERATURE
SENSOR
IOT DEVICE
Device B
OTHER DEVICE
Device C
SUBSCRIBE
TOPIC = TEMP
SUBSCRIBE
TOPIC = TEMP
PUBLISH: 30°C
PUBLISH: 30°C
PUBLISH: 30°C
TOPIC = TEMP
Figure 2. IoT communication paradigm.
Internet of Everything
. The rise of the IoT model and, more generally, the develop-
ment of wireless-based technologies has contributed to the definition of a model called the
Internet of Everything [
5
], further pushed forward by the advent of smartwatches,e-health
devices,smart vehicles, to name a few. With respect to the Internet of Things, the Internet
of Everything model is used to refer to the intelligent interconnection of data,processes,
things, and people, a scenario that involves billions of objects connected over public or
private networks by using different protocols (standard or proprietary), which can detect the
environment around them (sensors) or can interact with it (actuators).
Identity of Things
. The Identity of Things represents a concept mainly related to
the Internet of Things environment. It refers to assigning a unique identifier to all objects
operating in such an environment to allow their real-time interaction with people and other
objects (things). A centered and quite recent example of the scenario mentioned above is
that of autonomous vehicles [
6
], where the concept of unique identification becomes day
after day even more crucial [
7
]. The identifier can be created by using information that
uniquely characterizes the IoT device, such as the manufacturer, the serial number, and so
on. Alternatively, the identifier can be assigned to the IoT device by using a centralized
or decentralized assignation remote service, manually or automatically. Some possible
approaches able to perform this operation are presented in Section 4.1.
2.3. Blockchain Environment
The blockchain data structure has been introduced in the context of cryptocurrencies
like Bitcoin [
2
,
8
] and, later, Ethereum [
9
], as a shared and transparent distributed ledger to
Sensors 2021,21, 6814 5 of 24
store and trace financial transactions. It can be imagined as an ever-growing chain of blocks,
where each block stores a set of transactions and contains a cryptographic signature of
its predecessor, thus making it computationally hard to alter or remove the older blocks.
However, its functionality can also be exploited in non-financial contexts, in all the cases
where an application needs to ensure trust services. In other terms, it can be employed
to define the underlying trust level of an application. For example, its ability to verify
identity through a reliable authentication process [
10
] is nowadays exploited in the context
of heterogeneous environments, such as, for instance, those related to e-health [
11
], smart
cities [12], and IoT [13] applications.
Double Spending
. The main peculiarity of the blockchain is that it can guarantee
(or strongly limit), in a decentralized manner, the presence of double spendings. These
issues arise from the absence of a central intermediary in the decentralized context of
the blockchain. Roughly, let us assume that an entity Bob owns 100 and binds them in
a transaction to pay another entity Alice for a certain service/good. A double spending
occurs if Bob, illegitimately, binds the same 100 in a second transaction, to pay another
entity (e.g., Carl) for a different service/good. Since there is no central intermediary (e.g., a
bank), it may be challenging to determine that one of the two transactions was invalid. This
problem, graphically summarized in Figure 3, has been faced by adopting a distributed
timestamp mechanism to determine which transactions should be accepted and rejected.
More specifically, common blockchain technologies (like, for example, Bitcoin) exploits a
hash-chain approach to address this task [
11
]. To clarify this point, suppose that a block
B0
stores the transaction from Bob to Alice and a subsequent block
B1
stores the transaction
from Bob to Carl: through the hash-chain mechanism, each participant can verify that
B0
is
older than B1and thus reject the double spending transaction from Bob to Carl.
Consensus Mechanism
. The consensus mechanism stands at the base of the blockchain
paradigm: it allows the system to append new blocks to the blockchain, by preserving the
hash-chain and avoiding double spendings and forks. The literature defines as validators
the blockchain nodes that participate in the consensus process. More specifically, the most
famous consensus mechanism, first introduced by Bitcoin [
2
], is the so-called Proof-of-Work:
it assumes that each validator (known as miner in the context of this cryptocurrency)
employs some large computational power to solve a cryptographic puzzle, for earning the
right to append the current block to the blockchain. It is is aimed to protect the system
against alterations and other fraudulent activities, since it usually requires a very high
computation load, which involves resources that are generally not available for a single
user or a small group of users. Nowadays, the literature offers other consensus mechanisms
to effectively replace the PoW, such as, for instance, the Proof-of-Stake (PoS) [1416].
BOB BOBALICE
ALICE
CARL
owns 100 coins owns 100 coins
sends
his 100
coins to
Alice
sends the
same 100
coins to
Carl
sends
his 100
coins to
Alice
LEGITIMATE SPENDING DOUBLE SPENDING
Figure 3. Double spending issue.
Blockchain as a Distributed Ledger
. The core of functionality of the blockchain is the
possibility to exploit it as a Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT). The insertion and validation
of operations carried out by leveraging on the blockchain as a distributed ledger has been
exemplified in Figure 4. There exist mainly two types of distributed ledgers: unpermissioned
Sensors 2021,21, 6814 6 of 24
and permissioned. Well-known examples of unpermissioned ledgers are the Bitcoin and
Ethereum environments, designed to be open and uncontrolled. This is in contrast with
the permissioned ones, where only granted users can append new blocks to the ledger. In
any case, using the blockchain as a distributed ledger model implies to store a very large
amount of data. with a constant and continuous increasing in its size, thus raising a crucial
scalability issue that must be effectively faced in the future [17].
Bob performs an
operation through its
device
The operation is
encoded in a
transaction.
The transaction is sent
to validator nodes,
broadcasted in the
blockchain network.
The transaction is validated by
the nodes and added to a new
blockchain block. After the block
is appended to the blockchain
and confirmed, the transaction
becomes irriversibles.
Alice can verify the
operation made by
Bob through a
blockchain exploring
application.
Figure 4. The blockchain as a distributed ledger.
Blockchain and IoT Integration
. From a general point of view, the blockchain fits
well in all the applications where there is the need to identify entities (e.g., people, vehicles,
documents). For instance, [
18
] uses blockchain to get a verifiable identity through a
reliable authentication process; [
19
] introduces blockchain-based intelligent transportation
systems; [
20
] exploits blockchain to define a public identities ledger in the context of an
identity management system; [
21
] faces the Value Added Tax (VAT) fraud problem. More
specifically, literature discusses scenarios characterized by the integration of blockchain-
based infrastructures with IoT devices, such as in [
22
], where the authors identify the
following operative modalities:
IoT-IoT: characterized by low latency and a high level of security, since the involved
IoT devices operate between them for most of the time, by exploiting the canonical
protocols and by limiting the blockchain use for storing only a few information;
IoT-Blockchain: by following this strategy, all the IoT information is stored on the
blockchain, assuring its immutability and traceability, but increasing the bandwidth
consumption and the latency-time;
Hybrid Paradigm: this last strategy combines the two previous ones, performing part
of the activities directly between the IoT devices, and limiting the interaction with the
blockchain to the data storage activity.
For the needs of the proposed IoE paradigm, the second and third strategies (i.e.,
IoT-Blockchain and Hybrid) are the most suitable. However, by adopting optimized criteria,
the best method results in the Hybrid one, since it better balances the advantages offered by
the IoT-IoT and IoT-Blockchain strategies.
2.4. Security Aspects
Many works in the literature [
23
] evidence that wireless-based technologies evolution
did not keep up with the security one. It means that a series of problems that affect
security in a broad sense jeopardize the significant opportunities offered by these new
technologies. Some cases in point are fraud related to the e-commerce infrastructure [
24
],
where several approaches, proactive and retroactive, have been experimented in order
to face such problems [
25
], as well as the ever-increasing number of identity theft [
26
] or,
even more simply, the countless frauds made by exploiting the people’s trust [
27
], often by
recurring to social engineering techniques [28].
Sensors 2021,21, 6814 7 of 24
Furthermore, in the mobile network context, we can observe similar problems because
the smart devices that operate in this environment inherit the security risks that characterize
the Internet-based devices (e.g., desktop computers, laptops, and so on), such as the ones
above. In addition, there are a series of more specific risks related to this context [
29
], such
as, for instance, those related to bot-net-based attacks [
30
], or those that jeopardize user
privacy [31].
Security issues also flank the potential advantages of blockchain-based technologies,
where criminals try to exploit them fraudulently. Moreover, surveillance authorities can
not easily detect such criminal activities [
32
]. Another example of a security issue related
to the blockchain concerns the Proof-of-Work consensus.
As a group of people can operate jointly (i.e., forming a mining pool) to reduce time
variance in the mining of new blocks, if they achieved a grouped computational power
that is at least 51% of the total of the network, they can gain a full control of the blockchain,
breaking down its decentralization [
33
,
34
]. This attack has been theorized in the literature
as the majority attack [2], but never occurred in real use.
2.5. Localization Data Encoding
Blockchains have various ways to encode and store timestamps, locations, and further
metadata (i.e., data not related to financial operations). These techniques vary depending
on the target blockchain. Indeed, since Bitcoin’s birth, several applications have exploited
different fields of its protocol to append metadata for various use cases, including tracking
objects [
35
]. The most common technique in the Bitcoin blockchain, which also applies to
Litecoin, exploits the
OP_RETURN
field [
36
]: applications append a string of data encoded
by following a personal protocol. After a few years, Ethereum [
9
] arose, providing the
(currently) most widespread technique for encoding data and performing computations on
blockchains: the smart contracts.
More recently, permissioned blockchains like Hyperledger Fabric sprung up [
37
].
They still use smart contracts. However, they differ from previous (permissionless)
blockchains because they do not have a public network, releasing users from the dis-
advantages of a public fee but requiring them to configure and maintain a custom network.
For this reason, the cost of a transaction in a permissioned system may highly vary, and it
is not possible for us to estimate it. Accordingly, we did not include this kind of blockchain
in our analysis, although we remark that Hyperledger Fabric is widely used for tracking
positions and the life cycle of objects [38], to emphasize the generality of our paradigm.
2.6. Related Work
The literature presents several approaches that face similar tasks to those proposed
in this manuscript. Although the idea behind almost all of these works covers specific
application areas, it can not be considered a paradigm extensible across varied domains,
even very different ones, as in our case. For instance, in [
39
] the authors consider the
blockchain technology as a business strategy, proposing and discussing its application
in the fresh food delivery area, also proposing some considerations about the use of
this technology in reducing the logistics costs. Similarly, in [
40
], the authors propose a
blockchain-based framework to automate business flows in tracking supply chain processes.
Other works exploit the capabilities of blockchain, such as in [
41
], where the advantages of
the blockchain are combined with machine learning algorithms in the education field, or
in [
42
], where instead the 5G cellular network is combined with the blockchain technology
in order to provide reliable communication and enhanced information security.
Practically, what characterizes and differentiates the proposed IoE paradigm from the
other works in the literature is that we define a common approach potentially exploitable
on a wide variety of application domains rather than on a specific one.
Sensors 2021,21, 6814 8 of 24
3. Formal Notation
We use the term entity to indicate a device designed to operate in an IoE environment,
strictly associated with a person or thing. We use the term tracker to indicate a generic (new
or already existing) device that operates in a wireless-based environment, which is aimed
to interact with the entities. Given the above considerations, we introduce the following
formal notation:
(i)
We denote as
E={e1
,
e2
,
. . .
,
eM}
a set of entities, and we use
E(e)
to indicate such
information related to an entity e;;
(ii)
We denote as
Eτ={e1
,
e2
,
. . .
,
eN}
the entities in
E
detected by a tracker device
within
τ
seconds after detecting an entity (then
EτE
), and we use
Eτ(e)
to
indicate such information related to an entity e;
(iii)
We denote as
L={l1
,
l2
,
. . .
,
lO}
a set of geographic locations, with
l=latitude
,
longitude
, and we use
l(e)
to indicate such information related to an entity
e
when
atracker device detects it;
(iv)
We denote as
T={t1
,
t2
,
. . .
,
tP}
a set of timestamps, with
t={yyyy-mm-dd-hh-mm-ss}
,
and we use
t(e)
to indicate the timestamp related to detecting an entity
e
by a tracker
device;
(v)
We denote as
I={i1
,
i2
,
. . .
,
iQ}
a set of
GUIDs
(i.e. Globally Unique IDentifiers,
whose structure is formally defined in the RFC-4122 and explained in Section 4.1),
using the notation
i(e)
to indicate the
GUID
associated with an entity
e
, and the
notation i(tracker)to indicate the GU I D associated with a tracker device;
(vi)
We denote as
P={p1
,
p2
,
. . .
,
pW}
apayload, with
p={key
,
value}
, and we use
P(e)to indicate a payload related to an entity e;
(vii)
We denote as
R={r1
,
r2
,
. . .
,
rY}
a set of registration made on a blockchain-based
distributed ledger, with
r={i(e)
,
Eτ(e)
,
l(e)
,
t(e)
,
P(e)}
, and we use
r(e)
and
R(e)
to indicate, respectively, a registration related to an entity
e
and all the registrations
associated with that entity.
4. Approach Formulation
This section describes the four steps required to define the proposed IoE paradigm;
we summarize them in the following:
(i) Elements Definition
: it introduces the concept of entity and tracker in the IoE
environment, as well as the method to assign them a Globally Unique Identifier,
outlining some possible operative scenarios;
(ii) Elements Detection
: the detection process of an entity device is here described,
from the detection-time by a tracker device to the recording-time of the collected
data on a blockchain-based distributed ledger, focusing on the characteristics of the
state-of-the-art wireless technologies able to perform these activities;
(iii) Elements Communication
: it formalizes the data structures and the software
procedures able to merge the information related to the involved entity and tracker
devices, generating the data structure that represents the information to store on
the blockchain-based distributed ledger;
(iv) Elements Localization
: extensively, it describes the activities made to trace an
entity, introducing some baseline strategies and a series of localization rules aimed
to exploit the available information on the blockchain, directly or indirectly.
4.1. Elements Definition
Entities can be either persons or objects, like vehicles or goods. Each entity is always
associated with a Globally Unique Identifier (GUID).
Conversely, trackers usually are generic devices able to detect entity devices, capturing
their GUIDs and sensors data, and performing a registration into a blockchain-based
distributed ledger. Such a registration (i.e., the set
r
) is defined by joining entity and tracker
data, according to the formal notation defined in Section 3.
Sensors 2021,21, 6814 9 of 24
The unique identifier of the tracker devices could be already available (e.g., MAC-
address,IP-address, etc.), while that of the new entity devices placed in the IoE environment
needs to be defined and assigned. There exist several ways for generating unique identi-
fiers [
43
], but the two most common methods use: (i)serial numbers created by following
an incremental or sequential criterion; (ii)random numbers generated by using a range
of numbers enough larger to classify the expected number of objects. In the proposed
approach, we perform this operation using one of the most effective methods: the Globally
Unique Identifier.
Globally Unique Identifier
: The Globally Unique Identifier (GUID), also known as Uni-
versally Unique Identifier (UUID), is a 128-bit integer number commonly used to identify
resources uniquely [
44
]. In particular, [
44
] also provides a formal definition of GUID
string and algorithms able to generate it: for instance, f81d4fae-7dec-11d0-a765-00a0c91e6bf6
represents an example of GUID string.
Through the application of the birthday paradox [
45
], we can obtain a mathematical
demonstration of the GUID robustness in terms of hash collision probability. By following
this mathematical approach, considering that a GUID is a 128-bit long number, we can
identify a quadrillion entities (i.e., 10
15
) before we have a one in a billion possibility to get
a collision.
Some considerations can be made about the policies to adopt in order to assign the
GUID to each entity device that operates into the IoE environment, assuring that this
information remains stable along the time. This is because the IoE tracing mechanism uses
such information and a variation of it (i.e., the device GUID) during the life of an entity
device leads towards inconsistent data.
Some solutions involve a centralized GUID distribution, such as in [
46
], offered as
service to the users by following a free or paid modality, or an autonomous generation of
this information made directly by the users [
44
]. It is appropriate to reserve part of the
GUID information to distinguish the IoE devices from the other devices operating in the
wireless-based environment.
Operative Scenarios
: About the hardware to use in the IoE environment for allowing the
entity devices to interact with the tracker ones, we can outline several scenarios:
(i)
The entity device has limited or absent hardware resources (e.g., CPU,memory,
etc.), then it performs the identification process by exploiting passive technologies
like RFID (Radio-Frequency IDentification). In this first scenario, the tracker device
must be able to manage the identification process adopted by the entity;
(ii)
The entity device has hardware resources to adopt active technologies for the
identification process (e.g., 6LoWPAN and ZigBee, both defined by the technical
standard IEEE 802.15.4). This is the most common scenario, where the entity device
uses canonical wireless technologies and the tracker device does not need any
additional capability to interact with it;
(iii) The entity device can perform processes that require considerable hardware/soft-
ware resources. Such a scenario allows us to move on the IoE-side some processes
usually performed on the tracker-side, and it also allows the IoE device to handle
complex processes related to its sensors.
The scenario we consider in this paper is the second one, where the IoE device has
enough hardware/software resources that allow it to use active technologies for its identifi-
cation because it enables us to implement the IoE immediately and transparently, postpon-
ing the other scenarios to possible future implementations.
4.2. Elements Detection
As shown in the high-level working model of Figure 5, when an entity
e
enters within
the coverage area of a tracker device, such a device detects its identifier
i
(i.e., the GUID, as
formalized in Section 3), and it creates and submits a registration
r
on a blockchain-based
distributed ledger.
Sensors 2021,21, 6814 10 of 24
TRACKER TRACKER TRACKER TRACKER
BLOCKCHAIN
GUID
tx0
GUID + data
Localization point
ROUTE
Figure 5. Working model of the Internet-of-Entities.
Figure 5indicates the detection time of an entity
e
as data capture, and it coincides with
the timestamp
t
, which represents the point in the space where a tracker device detects the
entity and submits the information rto the blockchain-based distributed ledger.
All the above operations are managed using specific data structures, whose possible
implementation has been proposed in Section 4.3.
Wireless Technologies
: Regarding the technology to use for broadcasting the entity GUID,
the literature offers several technologies and protocols to perform this operation [
47
]. Some
examples of them are: Internet Protocol Version 6 over Low-Power Wireless Personal Area
Networks (6LoWPAN), Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Z-Wave,ZigBee,Near Field Communication
(NFC), Radio Frequency IDentification (RFID), SigFox, and 2G/3G.SigFox and 2G/3G are
classified as Low-Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) protocols, while the other ones as
Short-range Wireless protocols.
Table 1summarizes their characteristics, where the reported ranges (i.e., frequency
range and operative range) indicate only the lowest and the highest supported value (e.g., if
the protocol supports 125 KHz, 13.56 MHz, and 860 MHz, we report 125 KHz
÷
860 MHz).
The protocol choice should take into account the entity type. For example, in the case
of a person, such a choice should be oriented toward protocols able to ensure a low-power
consumption and a mid/short operative range. While in the case of objects (e.g., a vehicle),
the choice could be instead oriented toward protocols characterized by a long operative
range and a mid/high power consumption.
However, the above considerations are strongly related to the context of a custom IoE
device: when it is a standard device such as, for instance, a smartphone or a tablet, the
choice of the wireless protocols is driven by those supported by the operating system (e.g.,
802.11 b/g/n [48] and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) [49] protocols).
Sensors 2021,21, 6814 11 of 24
Table 1. Wireless technologies.
Wireless Frequency Data Operative Power Security Literature
Technology Range Rate Range Consumption Protocols Reference
BLE 2.4 GHz 1 MBps 15 ÷30 m low E0, Stream, AES-128 [49]
6LoWPAN 868 MHz ÷2.4 GHz 250 KBps 10 ÷100 m low AES [50]
Z-Wave 868 MHz ÷908 MHz 40 KBps 30 ÷100 m low AES-128 [51]
ZigBee 2.4 GHz 250 KBps 10 ÷100 m low AES [52]
NFC 868 MHz ÷902 MHz 106 ÷424 KBps 0 ÷1 m Ultra-low RC4 [53]
RFID 125 KHz ÷928 MHz 4 MBps 0 ÷200 m Ultra-low RSA,AES [54]
SigFox 125 KHz ÷860 MHz 100 ÷600 Bps 10 ÷50 Km low no-specific [55]
2G/3G 380 MHz ÷1.9 GHz 10 MBps Several Kms High RC4 [56]
4.3. Elements Communication
The communication between an entity
e
and a tracker device can be performed
by adopting elementary data structures, whose possible formalization is proposed in
Figures 6and 7.
They refer, respectively, to the data structure used to transmit data from an entity
device to a tracker device (i.e., entity-side) and to the data structure used to transmit the
registration data from a tracker device to the blockchain-based distributed ledger (i.e., tracker-
side).
About the Entity-side data structure, the GUID information, 128-bit long, is stored
by using five groups of hexadecimal digits, with the following sizes: eight hexadecimal
digits, four hexadecimal digits, four hexadecimal digits, four hexadecimal digits, and 12
hexadecimal digits.
01 2 345 6 78 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Entity: Globally Unique Identifier
Entity: Local Payload
.
.
.
Entity
Device
Data
Figure 6. Entity-side data structure.
01 2 345 6 78 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Entity: Globally Unique Identifier
Entity: Neighbor Entities List
.
.
.
Tracker: Latitude Tracker: Longitude
Tracker: Timestamp
tracker
Primary
Data
Entity + Tracker: Global Payload
.
.
.
Tracker
Payload
Data
Figure 7. Tracker-side data structure.
The registration data
r
are defined by merging a series of identification data (Tracker
Primary Data) with the sensors data related both to the entity and tracker devices activity
(Tracker Payload Data). In some contexts, the Payload Data could be partially (only the entity
or tracker sensors data) or completely absent (no sensors data), and, in these cases, the entity
information will be the GUID, the location, and the timestamp.
The hardware/software process performed on the entity-side is limited to broadcast its
data (GUID and local payload) at regular intervals using the wireless functionality. Regarding
the tracker-side hardware/software process, when there are no other priority tasks active,
Sensors 2021,21, 6814 12 of 24
the tracker device operates a listening activity to detect entities in its wireless coverage area,
sending the collected entity and tracker data to the blockchain-based distributed ledger.
Notably, in the data structures, we classify the payload based on the data it refers to,
using the term local to indicate that generated by the entity device and global to indicate
that generated by the tracker device, which also includes the local payload.
The data anonymity and data immutability offered by a blockchain-based distributed ledger,
joined with the low cost of the devices needed for the data transmission and the wireless
coverage provided by the ever-increasing number of wireless-based devices, give life to a
robust environment on which the proposed IoE paradigm is based.
The data that we need to store on the blockchain-based distributed ledger is that described
in Section 3: the first field
i
contains the Globally Unique Identifier of the IoE entity; the
field
Eτ
contains, when it is applicable, a list of Globally Unique Identifiers related to the
other entities captured together with the entity
e
in a defined temporal frame
τ
; the lfield
contains the geographic position (i.e., latitude and longitude) of the e-health device that
detected the entity
e
; the field treports when the data capture event occurred, in the format
yyyy-mm-dd-hh-mm-ss; the last field Pcontains a series of values in the format key,value
which refer to the sensors data of the entity device (local payload) and the sensors data of the
e-health device (global payload).
Software Procedures
: The software to perform the entity-tracker and tracker-ledger com-
munications can be an update, in case of IoE and custom devices, or an application (app),
in most other cases (i.e., smartphones,tablets, and similar devices). It has to fulfill the
IoE paradigm needs, from the entity detection to the data registration, by performing the
following operations:
1.
entity-side: it provides to broadcast the device GUID along with the payload (i.e., local
sensors data) by using the built-in wireless device functionality;
2.
tracker-side: it performs a listening activity aimed to detect and recognize (distinguish-
ing them from the other devices through the mechanism adopted in the implementa-
tion phase, for instance, a specific GUID preamble) entities within its wireless coverage
area;
3.
tracker-side: it appends the e-health device data (i.e., primary and payload data) with
the data transmitted by the entity device (i.e., GUID and payload), building a data
packet suitable for registration on the blockchain-based distributed ledger;
4.
tracker-side: it submits the defined data packet on the blockchain-based distributed ledger
to perform an immutable registration of the entity device activity;
5.
tracker-side: it waits to receive from the blockchain-based distributed ledger the registration
acknowledge of the submitted packet; otherwise, it repeats the submission.
A series of custom data dashboards (i.e., management tools able to display, track and
analyze information) can also be designed to manage all the processes involved in the IoE
paradigm, which is related to the constant tracking of the entities.
4.4. Elements Localization
When we need to investigate an entity
e
, first we get all needed data related to it by
performing a data gathering process, such as that reported in Algorithm 1, then we can
manage such data through different strategies, such as the baseline ones described below:
1. Direct Tracing
: by following this strategy, the movements of an entity
e
, from its first
introduction in the IoE environment, are traced by using the information
l(e)
and
t(e)
in r(e),r(e)R(e), according to the formalization given in Section 3.
Figure 8shows this process, and presents six detection points
l
of an entity
e
, chrono-
logically numbered by using the timestamp information
t
. In more detail, we first
query the blockchain-based distributed ledger to extract all the registrations
R(e)
, and
then we number each location
l(e)r(e)
,
r(e)R(e)
(i.e., latitude and longitude)
along the chronological sequence given by the timestamp information t(e)r(e).
Sensors 2021,21, 6814 13 of 24
More formally, given a series of entity locations
l(e)L
, we introduce a Trace Location
Set
ω={l1
,
l2
,
. . .
,
lZ}
to store all the locations
l(e)L
in the chronological order
determined by the timestamp information t(e)T, as formalized in Equation 1.
ωl(e)| ∀ l(e)in L
with l1<l2<. . . <lZlω(1)
Algorithm 1 Blockchain-based distributed ledger data gathering.
Require: e=Entity, R=Blockchain-based distributed ledger registrations
Ensure: ˆ
R=Registrations related to entity e
1: procedure GETENTITYREGISTRATIONS(e,R)
2: for each rin Rdo
3: igetEntityGU I D(r)
4: if i(e) == ˆ
ethen
5: ˆ
Rr(e)
6: end if
7: end for
8: return ˆ
R
9: end procedure
The localization resolution is directly related to the e-health device that has detected
the entity. We can obtain a high-resolution localization when the e-health device runs a
localization service (e.g., GPS) an its location is near the detected entity. Instead, we
obtain a low-resolution localization when the localization data are related to another
device. For instance, this happens when the e-health device operates in the mobile
network but without any active localization service. In this case the location could
refer to the mobile network cell.
This is represented in Figures 8and 9: the high-resolution localization coincides with
the entity map-point, while the low-resolution localization can be considered any map-
points within the grid-square where the entity is placed, which represents the mobile
network cell.
Figure 8. IoE direct tracing.
2. Interpolate Tracing
: in this strategy, we take into account the information
l(e)
,
t(e)
,
and
Eτ(e)
in
r(e)
,
r(e)R(e)
. When applicable, the
Eτ(e)
information contains the
other entities detected by the e-health device within
τ
seconds from the detection of
e
(the entity under analysis), as described in Section 3.
Sensors 2021,21, 6814 14 of 24
We exploit the new information to reconstruct the entity movements by interpolating
the
l(e)r(e)
,
r(e)R(e)
data with the same data of the entities in
Eτ(e)
(neighbor
entities). Figure 9graphically shows this process, where +denotes the entity under
analysis and Na neighbor entity in Eτ(e).
In the example of interpolate tracing shown in Figure 9, we can observe how the first
localization of the entity + includes a neighbor Nthat we found another time in
the third location of the location chronology of +. This represents a naive example
of interpolate tracing, based on the reasonable probability that such a configuration
indicates that the neighbor entity is somehow related to the primary entity under
analysis, especially when this pattern repeats over time. In other words, it is very
likely that in the second localization of N, the entity + was also present and that it has
not been detected for some reasons such as, for instance, a temporary e-health device
overload, or because the entity device was out of the wireless e-health range. This
pattern, repeated over time, could underline interesting connections between entities,
as well as the last location of a missing entity.
More formally, given the Trace Location Set
ω={l1
,
l2
,
. . .
,
lZ}
previously defined
and given a series of entity locations
L(e) = {l1
,
l2
,
. . .
,
lO}
, at each location
lL(e)
(with
O
3) we extract from the set
Eτ(e)
a subset of valuable neighbor entities by
following the criterion in Equation (2).
ωl(e)|if ein Et(lo1)ein Et(lo+1),ein Eτ
with l1<l2<. . . <lZlω(2)
We can generalize the previous criterion by varying the distance between the step
Eτ(e)
(i.e., where we extract the valuable neighbor entities from
E(e)
) and the previous
and next step that we take into account. Denoting as
α
such a distance (i.e., the
number of considered locations), we can re-formalize the former criterion as shown
in Equation (3).
ωl(e)|if ein Et(loα)ein Et(lo+α)
with l1<l2<. . . <lZlω(3)
We underline that we do not infringe the privacy of the involved neighbor entities since
the entity data are collected anonymously into the blockchain-based distributed ledger.
Figure 9. IoE interpolate tracing.
3. Spread Tracing
: this last baseline criterion exploits all the neighbor entities in
Eτ
, with
e6=ˆ
eand |Eτ| ≥ 2, where ˆ
edenotes the entity under analysis.
Sensors 2021,21, 6814 15 of 24
As valuable neighbor entities of
ˆ
e
, we add all the entities in their locations
L
have
ˆ
e
as
neighbor entity, as shown in Equation (4).
ωl(e)|if ˆ
ein Eτ(e),l(e)in L
with l1<l2<. . . <lZlω(4)
The result can be expressed as the tracing matrix
Ξ
shown in Equation (5), where each
row refers to a different valuable entity
e
. In other words, each matrix-row refers to
a different valuable entity
e
, and it reports the locations
l
where the entity
e
has the
entity ˆ
eas a neighbor in Eτ(e).
Ξ(e) =
l1,l2,· · · ,lO
l1,l2,· · · ,lO
.
.
..
.
.....
.
.
l1,l2,· · · ,lO
(5)
After ordering the matrix row elements by location and counting how many entities
ˆ
e
are involved in each matrix column, we can evaluate the probability that the entity
e
was in a specific position, although a e-health device has not detected it.
Figure 10
graphically shows this criterion, where the grid-size (i.e., square-side) represents a
tolerance value, which we denoted as
. This means that all the entity detections that
occur in the same grid square refer to the same matrix row index (i.e., Equation (5)).
Figure 10. IoE spread tracing.
The grid of Figure 10 represents different information, with respect to that of
Figures 8and 9
, since, in this case, it does not represent the mobile network cells but
the tolerance value
. Moreover, all the previous criteria can be combined for defining a
more complex strategy based on different localization rules.
As a final remark, we observe that this work is mainly devoted to provide a conceptual
framework that aims at exploiting and combining, synergistically, the different potentials of
the IoT, mobile and blockchain worlds. A massive implementation and testing of concrete
use cases in real-world scenarios have not yet been carried out, although they represent the
natural future direction of research towards which this work is heading.
5. Experimental Findings
In the light of what we said in Section 4, considering that an exhaustive validation
of the proposed IoE paradigm would require a wide diffusion, as happened with other
paradigms (e.g., IoT), the experiments carried out and reported in this section are aimed to
verify and evaluate the practical feasibility of the proposed IoE paradigm in a real-world
scenario.
Sensors 2021,21, 6814 16 of 24
In this context, the implementation of the proposed paradigm has been tested through
a prototype based on several ESP32 boards, equipped with the
Zerynth
(zerynth.com)
(accessed on 01 September 2021) library, and interfacing with the Ropsten blockchain (an
Ethereum testnet). The purpose of the performed experiments has been focused on the
following four fundamental aspects that characterize the proposed IoE paradigm:
(i) definition of entities and trackers;
(ii) detection of the entities within the wireless coverage area of the trackers;
(iii) communication
of data made by the trackers on a remote blockchain-based distributed
ledger;
(iv) localization
of entities by applying the baseline strategies formalized in this paper.
5.1. Setup of the Experiments
In order to achieve the set goals, the experiments have been carried out with the aim
to simulate, in a restricted context, the real behavior of entities and trackers, as well as their
interaction with the distributed ledger. Specifically, we set up the experiments by first
choosing a set of locations
L={l1
,
l2
,
. . .
,
lj}
, where we disposed of
j
trackers. Afterwards,
we engaged a set of
k
entities
E={e1
,
e2
,
. . .
,
ek}
. We assigned a Globally Unique Identifier to
each entity and tracker. Figure 11 shows the main experiment venue, along with trackers
position. For convenience, such a venue were identified as an urban park in Cagliari,
Sardinia. Hence, the engaged entities were free to move in the venue: whenever one of
them met a tracker, the communication started and the data were stored in the Ropsten
blockchain.
Figure 11. Map of the experiment venue, with the position of each tracker.
To measure the operational parameters of the paradigm, in each experiment we varied
the number of involved entities and trackers. Moreover, for all of them, we analyzed two
different scenarios by evaluating, respectively, the BLE technology (Table 2) and the RFID
one (Table 3). In particular, we use
Td
to indicate the detection time, i.e., the average time
that trackers require to detect and perform the handshake with entities. Furthermore, we
denote as
Tr
the registration time, i.e., the average time required to save a transaction
in the Ropsten blockchain. Since determining these values for each detection during the
experiment was unfeasible, particularly due to the limitations of the boards, they were
measured beforehand in a controlled environment, and then kept fixed to calculate the
final results. Thus, from the controlled measurements, we obtained, on average,
Tr=
4.25 s
and Td=1 s (regardless of the type of wireless technology considered).
Sensors 2021,21, 6814 17 of 24
Accordingly, the first goal of our experiments was to determine the average communica-
tion time per tracker
Avgtime
, i.e., the average time spent by each tracker to detect and record
entities, defined as:
Avgtime =Nd(Td+Tr)
Nt(6)
where
Nd
and
Nt
indicate, respectively, the total number of detections and the total number
of trackers of each experiment.
For the sake of completeness, the second goal was to determine the average cost each
tracker affords to store all its transactions in the blockchain. Since the experiments were
conducted by means of the Ropsten blockchain, an Ethereum testnet whose transaction cost
is free of charge, we simulated the actual cost by considering three different and widely
distributed public blockchains, specifically Ethereum (as it is already available for use by the
prototype), Litecoin and Binance, that for implementation characteristics are overlapping,
but currently more economically advantageous. In light of the above, for each considered
blockchain
B
, we retrieved the average fee cost in USD (determined at the time of writing,
i.e., September 2021); such values, for the three considered blockchains are, respectively,
FeeETH =7.4, FeeLTC =0.016, and FeeBNB =0.27 USD.
With such ingredients, we finally calculated the average cost per tracker, for each
blockchain, as:
Avgcost =NdFeeB
Nt(7)
where FeeBis the specific blockchain transaction fee as listed above.
5.2. Results and Discussion
The results of the experiments carried out are reported in Tables 2and 3below. The
first column defines an unique identifier of each experiment. The second and third columns
show the amount of entities and trackers involved in each experiment. Similarly, the fourth
column indicates the total number of entities detections
Nd
, which also corresponds to the
number of blockchain transactions performed to permanently store these events. Finally,
the last three columns show the estimated values of average fee per tracker, for the three
blockchains considered.
What emerges from the results, albeit in a very limited context, but which is fully
reflected in real experience, is that the increase in the number of trackers—thus indicating a
greater pervasiveness of the paradigm—does not seem to affect the average time and cost
per tracker, since the burden is better distributed among them. However, we observe that
trackers with a much higher overall burden will always exist, whenever they are associated
with inherently busier real-world locations.
Table 2. Experimental results using BLE as wireless technology.
Experiment Number Number Number Average Ethereum Litecoin Binance
of of of Communication Time Average Cost per Average Cost per Average Cost per
Identifier Entities Trackers Detections per Tracker (s) Tracker (USD) Tracker (USD) Tracker (USD)
1 6 2 3 7.88 11.10 0.02 0.41
2 6 4 7 9.19 12.95 0.03 0.47
3 6 6 10 8.75 12.33 0.03 0.45
4 8 2 5 13.13 18.50 0.04 0.68
5 8 4 10 13.13 18.50 0.04 0.68
6 8 6 14 12.25 17.27 0.04 0.63
7 10 2 6 15.75 22.20 0.05 0.81
8 10 4 14 18.38 25.90 0.06 0.95
9 10 6 19 16.63 23.43 0.05 0.86
Sensors 2021,21, 6814 18 of 24
Table 3. Experimental results using RFID as wireless technology.
Experiment Number Number Number Average Ethereum Litecoin Binance
of of of Communication Time Average Cost per Average Cost per Average Cost per
Identifier Entities Trackers Detections per Tracker (s) Tracker (USD) Tracker (USD) Tracker (USD)
10 6 2 6 15.75 22.20 0.05 0.81
11 6 4 13 17.06 24.05 0.05 0.88
12 6 6 19 16.63 23.43 0.05 0.86
13 8 2 9 23.63 33.30 0.07 1.22
14 8 4 18 23.63 33.30 0.07 1.22
15 8 6 25 21.88 30.83 0.07 1.13
16 10 2 12 31.50 44.40 0.10 1.62
17 10 4 25 32.81 46.25 0.10 1.69
18 10 6 35 30.63 43.17 0.09 1.58
The second interesting finding from this preliminary study is that as the number
of entities increased, average times and costs per tracker increased in an apparently linear
fashion, regardless of the number of trackers. Again, in a massive usage scenario, busier
locations will inevitably be subject to a more pronounced growth trend.
Finally, although not the subject of these experiments, we want to recall that it is
possible to reconstruct the path of entities,ex post, by retrieving their positions history from
the blockchain and applying one of the localization strategies presented in Section 4.4, i.e.,
Direct Tracing,Interpolate Tracing, or Spread Tracing.
6. Potential Applications, Limitations and Future Directions
This section discusses some future directions where the proposed IoE paradigm is
oriented, and it also makes general considerations about its potential spread.
6.1. Secure Payload Storing
The first future direction we suggest is an extension of the IoE paradigm that could
manage as payload large and sensitive sensors data by recurring to external storage services
and encryption protocols. Such a problem arises concerning the payload data generated
by the e-health device that detect an entity. Indeed such data could refer to sensitive
information generated by some classes of sensors such as, for instance, microphones and
video cameras, instead of non-sensitive information generated by other classes of sensors
(e.g., temperature sensors,humidity sensors, etc.).
A possible and effective solution able to face this problem exploits the asymmetric
encryption model [
57
], which analogously to the canonical encryption mechanism adopted
nowadays in several applications (e.g. Secure Socket Shell,Open Pretty Good Privacy,Secure
Multi-Purpose Internet Mail Extensions, etc.) is exploited for encrypting the data locally
(when the e-health functionalities allow us this operation) or remotely (e.g., in a distributed
database).
Data Encryption
: The data encryption is performed by using the e-health device public key.
In this way only it can decrypt the data by using its private key, although the involved entity
has access to that data in encrypted form. Figure 12 summarizes the entire process.
This already happens in the context of the blockchain technology, where the private
key cryptography mechanism provides a powerful ownership method that fulfills the
authentication requirements (i.e., the ownership is private-key-based), without the need to
share more personal information. In this context, such a mechanism also grants both privacy
and ownership.
When there is the need to investigate an entity using such encrypted data (e.g., in case
of a criminal event like kidnappings, thefts, etc.), the involved authorities in charge can
access data. It is possible to exclude this information using others (e.g., location,timestamp,
etc.) in minor events.
Data Hashing
: The connection between the encrypted data (stored locally or remotely)
and the entity is possible using a string generated by a hash function as data-name [
58
].
Such a function is a particular class of hash functions largely used in cryptography. Some
common examples are: MD4 [59], SHA [60], TIGER [61], and WHIRLPOOL [62].
Sensors 2021,21, 6814 19 of 24
Figure 12. Data encryption process.
In more detail, by adopting a mathematical algorithm is possible to map data (char-
acterized by arbitrary size) to a bit string (characterized by a fixed size). The result is a
defined hash, and it represents a one-way function that is infeasible to invert. The literature
usually refers to the input data as message and the output data (i.e., the hash) as message
digest or digest.
Ahash process shown in Figure 13 makes it possible to validate the file data integrity,
detecting all modifications since they change the hash output. While an encryption process
represents a two-way function based on the encryption and decryption operations, hashing
represents a one-way function that irreversibly transforms the source data used as input into
a plain text output (i.e., the hash of data).
Figure 13. Data hashing process.
Data Consistency
: A problem that could emerge adopting the proposed paradigm is
certainly related to the consistency of the data stored on the blockchain [
16
,
63
,
64
]. In this
sense, excessive network latency or the presence of malicious nodes could compromise
the chronological order of entities’ registration. On the other hand, replay or tampering
attacks [
65
] on transactions are natively prevented by the digital signature protocols of
most existing blockchain systems [66].
However, regarding the chronological order, we remark that even a delayed (or
missed) registration can generate, in some specific scenarios, significant limitations in the
use of the IoE paradigm. Notably, several protocols [
15
,
16
,
67
,
68
] have been proposed in the
literature to guarantee the consistency of transaction publication, mainly through incentive
mechanisms parallel to those of the main consensus mechanism of the blockchain used.
Although theoretically allowed, integrating such protocols with the IoE paradigm, as they
are fundamentally domain-independent, represents a significant future development of
this work to its more practical conceptualization.
6.2. IoE Technology Spread
As happened with other similar technologies, even in the proposed IoE one, the
greatest obstacle to overcome is the spread across users of such a technology.
Although it is possible to create a new network of devices that operate according to
the proposed IoE paradigm, we can substantially reduce this problem by integrating the
Sensors 2021,21, 6814 20 of 24
IoE network into the existing wireless-based ones (e.g., IoT and mobile). This process, which
allows us to maximize the IoE potential, can be facilitated by adopting several strategies,
such as the following ones:
(i)
Designing transparent and straightforward procedures of integration of the needed
IoE functionalities in the existing e-health devices. This can be achieved, for
instance, by integrating these as a service in the new devices, by recurring to a
well-documented firmware/software upgrade process, or by making available an
application (in those cases where the trackers or the entities are implemented in
devices that allow us this solution, e.g., smartphones,tablets, etc.);
(ii)
Making effective campaigns of information aimed to underline the advantages
for each user that joins the IoE network, empathizing the gained opportunity to
exchange data between a large community of users, a massive amount of valuable
data that they can exploit in many contexts, such as that of localization taken into
account in this paper;
(iii)
Offering benefits to the users that join their devices to the IoE network as trackers,
allowing the system to perform the entity detection and the distributed-ledger regis-
tration tasks. Such benefits could include the free use of some services related to
the IoE network, such as, for instance, the services used for remote data storage.
As previously underlined, the exploitation of the mobile network contributes to
impress a substantial acceleration to the spread of the IoE network, since such a network
already involves an enormous number of potentially configurable devices, by recurring to
simple applications, to operate according to the IoE paradigm. In this case, the information
related to the geographic location of the trackers can be obtained by a local service (i.e.,
GPS) or by querying the mobile cell to which the e-health is connected. The sensors data
related to the e-health side will be those available for that device; otherwise, this data will
be absent.
The use case taken into account in this paper relies on the interaction between entities
and trackers, implemented by using custom (e.g., wearable solutions) or standard (IoT,
smartphone, and tablet) devices. However, the IoE potentiality could be improved by adding
to the IoE network other classes of devices such as, for instance, routers,access-points,
hot-spots, and many others. Although this type of expansion is potentially practicable, it
requires an implementation effort more significant than needed by using the devices we
considered in this paper.
Business Models
: Some conclusive general observations are about exploiting the proposed
IoE paradigm in the context of a hypothetical commercial scenario. From the point of view
of a Business-to-Business (B2B) model, we can start by observing that many financial analysts
underline that only the area related to the IoT has given rise to an interesting and profitable
financial market, whose value in the next 5-10 years has been estimated around trillions of
dollars [69].
Consequently, as a specialized sub-area of the wireless-based technologies market, the
proposed IoE paradigm could offer new stimulating and profitable opportunities, consid-
ering that its applications involve a considerable number of customers, both private and
commercial ones. To summarize, the activity core could be oriented towards developing
IoE solutions for business customers, who in turn can offer this service to their customers,
according to a Business-to-Consumer (B2C) model.
Such solutions involve both hardware and software aspects, from the hardware/soft-
ware development of the IoE devices (e.g., wearable devices,smartphone applications,vehicle
equipment, etc.) to the management of the needed services (e.g., unique identifier distribution,
remote storage, etc). In some cases, these opportunities could be further expanded by defin-
ing and offering services in partnership with public or private investigative agencies (e.g.,
security guards,local police, etc.), giving rise to an attractive transversal market.
Sensors 2021,21, 6814 21 of 24
AB2C scenario could also include other services such as, for instance, the management
of entities initially directly managed by customers or the development and commercializa-
tion of custom hardware and software solutions.
7. Conclusions
In this paper, we generalized and extended our novel paradigm, which we baptized
Internet of Entities (IoE). First, we discussed the context in which we proposed our paradigm.
Then, we formalized the notions of entity and trackers, providing also a timely definition
of the interaction model and communication protocols between entities,trackers, and the
blockchain. Subsequently, we performed a series of experiments aimed to verify and
evaluate the practical feasibility of the proposed IoE paradigm in a real-world use case. We
also identified specific heuristics and strategies for reconstructing the entities movements
and, finally, we discussed the potential usage applications and future implementation of
our paradigm.
The
IoE
paradigm joins the capabilities of the wireless-based environment with the
certification capability provided by the blockchain-based distributed ledgers. It has two
core components, entities and trackers, billions of new or already-existing devices that
operate interchangeably across the its environment. Although such a paradigm exploits
existing and widespread technologies, it offers a novel way to reliably trace the activity of
people and objects in a certified and privacy-friendly way, producing valuable, exploitable,
and investigative-valid data. In this sense, the concept of robust network in its unstructured
simplicity, expressed by Satoshi Nakamoto during their Bitcoin formulation [
2
], well describes
also the Internet of Entities network, whose capabilities are destined to grow, day after
day, thanks to the continuous introduction of new wireless devices, which provide an
ever-expanding coverage area.
Concluding, if, on the one hand, the proposed
IoE
paradigm can be easily imple-
mented by exploiting existing technologies and infrastructures, on the other hand, it
produces a series of advantages for the community, revealing the potential for growth in
many real-world scenarios, such as that of the localization taken into consideration in this
paper.
Author Contributions:
Conceptualization, R.S., A.S.P., L.P., D.R.R. and G.F.; data curation, R.S.,
A.S.P., and L.P.; formal analysis, R.S.; methodology, R.S., A.S.P., L.P., D.R.R. and G.F.; resources, R.S.,
A.S.P., L.P., D.R.R. and G.F.; supervision, D.R.R. and G.F.; validation, R.S., A.S.P., L.P. and D.R.R.;
writing, original draft, R.S.; writing, review and editing, R.S., A.S.P., L.P. and D.R.R. All authors have
read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.
Funding: This research received no external funding.
Institutional Review Board Statement: Not applicable.
Informed Consent Statement: Not applicable.
Data Availability Statement: Not applicable.
Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest.
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