The Secure Concentrator Card – Investing in a More Secure Helium Network
by: Paul Dinocore
- Secure Concentrators are optional
- 25% rewards boost to Hotspots with Secure Concentrators
- Secure Concentrators help the fight against PoC cheaters
Helium HIP 72
Helium HIP 72 introduces a new type of hardware device that can be used to build IoT Hotspots: the Secure Concentrator Card. This new piece of hardware can be used by manufacturers to build new Helium Hotspots, can be retrofitted into existing Hotspots, or could be used to build DIY hotspots. Secure Concentrators are different from ordinary concentrator cards because they perform encryption in hardware making it very difficult to fake data. This extra layer of security is useful for the Helium Network because it can help prove that hotspots are providing useful wireless coverage and not cheating the system. Upgrading your hotspot with a Secure Concentrator is not required, but if you choose to invest in the additional hardware, you will receive a 25% rewards boost. NLighten Systems has developed hardware reference design with help from a Helium Foundation Grant and has plans to manufacture.
State of Gaming
At present, the best estimate is that cheaters unfairly take 10-20% of all HNT mined. To date, there are about 120 thousand hotspots on the denylist - that means that one in ten hotspots has been identified as a cheater. Of course, the denylist only represents the hotspots that we know about. So cheating is certainly a problem. In fact, there are at least three different ways cheaters cause problems. First, the obvious is that cheaters unfairly take HNT rewards which lowers everyone else’s earnings. In fact, if cheaters were totally eliminated tomorrow, everyone else would immediately see a 11%-25% earnings boost. Second, cheaters are most likely selling their ill-gotten gains immediately putting downward price pressure on HNT (cheaters are likely not HODLers). Finally, cheaters are an image problem. They are a stain on Helium’s reputation and might be driving potential business partners away.
Luckily, there are a lot of people working on building better algorithms to identify cheaters. Secure Concentrators will be a huge help to this effort in a few different ways. The data Secure Concentrators produce is considered more trustworthy because it is digitally signed in hardware. Hardware is much more difficult to attack than software. Attacking hardware requires special skills and expensive equipment. Even the most skilled attacker risks destroying the hardware in the process of conducting an attack. In contrast, attacking software is as easy as copy-paste someone else’s script code. A big thing to consider here is the scalability of an attack. Sure, you might be able to hack the hardware on one hotspot. But what would it take to scale that attack to one thousand hotspots, or ten thousand?
Now, imagine for a moment that you are developing an anti-cheating algorithm. Like all algorithms, you feed in data collected from hotspots around the world and your goal is to identify cheaters to add to the denylist. It makes sense to give more weight to the data produced by Secure Concentrators over ordinary hotspots because it is safe to assume that Secure Concentrator is less likely to be producing fake data. Just by existing and participating in everyday Proof-of-Coverage activity, Secure Concentrators will help the fight against cheaters.
The Secure Concentrator design has the ability to enable a new type of location verification system called Time Difference of Arrival (TDoA). This allows several Secure Concentrators in the area to work together to pin-point the location of any transmission. This technology makes heavy use of the precise timestamps and location provided by onboard GPS receivers. Not only is this a new type of location service that can be used by low-power trackers, but also provides another dataset for anti-cheating algorithms. TDoA is only available if three or more Secure Concentrators receive a transmission. In dense cities, this critical mass is achieved roughly when 4% or more of the population of hotspots use Secure Concentrators.
Let’s talk rewards. Helium hotspots with Secure Concentrators will receive 25% extra mining rewards for PoC Witness packets. The rewards boost is designed to incentivize people to install Secure Concentrators. However, Secure Concentrators are optional. There is no requirement to upgrade or replace your ordinary Helium hotspot. The choice is yours. Everyone's free to perform their own cost-benefit analysis and decide if Secure Concentrators are right for them.
Now, even if you decide not to install a Secure Concentrator, you will still receive the benefits of participating in a global network with less cheaters. Simply put, a Helium network with less gamers has more value. First, in the immediate sense, if less HNT is going to gamers, that means more is going to your wallet. Also, gamers are likely placing significant downward price pressure on HNT because they are probably selling as fast as they can. Second, the network becomes even more attractive to companies operating large fleets of sensor devices. More network usage drives up the price of HNT. We believe that all of these positive effects together will vastly outweigh the small loss in ordinary hotspot rewards created by Secure Concentrators.
What is Next?
First things first, we need to pass HIP 72. Like all major changes to the Helium network, the Hellium Community needs to pass the proposal with a majority vote to make it official. Voting is a very important part of the democratic process. If you agree with the points of this article and would like to see a more secure Helium network with fewer gamers, please vote in favor of HIP 72. Voting is simple and easy to do.
NLighten Systems has plans to manufacture Secure Concentrators. A final retail price has not been determined yet because it depends on production volume. We will keep you updated with more information as the project moves forward.