An Open Call to the Industry – IOT Security

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It’s in 2019. The long-anticipated Internet of Things (IoT), despite gaining decent ground over the past few years, still doesn’t quite feel as mature as we were once promised. The technology is there, the appetite is there. What is holding it back?

Three things consistently arise when truly looking at scaling the IoT: 

  • Fear over poor security (exacerbated by destructive attacks and scare-mongering of recent years)
  • Closed ecosystems looking to become the next big thing at the centre of our universe 
  • Widespread access to suitable connectivity options for the variety of devices crying out to be connected

Why now is the time for mobile IoT

Why is it that, despite huge advancements in cellular technology, most of the IoT devices that have broken into the mainstream still connect to a Wi-Fi network? Okay, those sensors, lightbulbs, kettles, thermostats, and fridges don’t tend to travel very far—they’re all part of the connected home we see paraded at CES each year. But it doesn’t help the growing sentiment that the IoT is looking a bit, well… stationary.

Even the recent – and highly acclaimed – Like a Bosch campaign, aimed at showing the next generation human taking the IoT to the very extreme, takes place for the large part inside – a supermarket or a kitchen – with any connection to the Bosch smart devices advertised showing relatively little need to disconnect from Wi-Fi. It would be unnecessary – not to mention disconcerting – feature, after all, if the vacuum cleaner or coffee machine took themselves for a roam up the street.

Wi-Fi provides great coverage in a very well-defined area. The moment a connected device starts to move or becomes a little less predictable and leaves that area, connectivity to the outside world is lost, and the hailed connected device becomes… device. Building a true Internet of Things on Wi-Fi alone restricts the scope, not to mention the imagination of developers. For most, the dreams of a truly connected world currently end at the front gate.

For the undoubtedly more useful, if less consumer-friendly, applications of the IoT – those that track or monitor street traffic or air pollution, for example – cellular or mobile connectivity provides clear advantages. Even further, devices that are network agnostic and connect out of the box wherever they are in the world, whatever the network access technology only offer greater benefits.

Security and interoperability

Although IoT solutions built on Wi-Fi and local network access provide a certain comfort over its security – individuals, after all, remain in ultimate control of their own network – it is often that very misplaced comfort that opens it up to attacks. Everyone is duly encouraged to change their own wi-fi password regularly to protect their kettle from boiling over every morning at the behest of the rogue teenager next door. 

But let’s set that simple advice in the real world.

If the number of connected devices swells to its predicted 10 billion by the end of next year, it’s incumbent on the industry to ask: just how scalable are these practices when managed on an individual level? If you do change your Wi-Fi password, as instructed, how many devices on which do you then have to change that password accordingly? The titular Like a Bosch ‘boss’ wouldn’t look so slick tapping in a complicated string of characters to his lawnmower. It’s this real-world application of security features that leaves the IoT open to threat.

Mobile IoT deployments are undeniably the next frontier in the connected device market. Next year at CES, we won’t just be seeing connected homes but much more practical, useful applications of new things not restricted to known Wi-fi networks and have the freedom to benefit from widespread access to internet connectivity wherever it happens to be in the world. 

The significant progress in hardware, software and network technology has set the stage for the massive increase in connected devices in coming years. Whether it’s your child’s teddy bear, your home security system or your network of intelligent sensors— they are all set to benefit from greater access to connectivity and artificial intelligence. Bu the truth is that no one platform, no one network, no one supplier in their entirety can tie together the various ecosystems that already exist in the home (let alone in the outside world)—and secure them, in a way that the average user can really get on board with. 

We’ve got to see solutions where the customer doesn’t end up managing multiple networks and security systems just to feel protected. Yes, it’s got to be secure. But it’s also got to be simple. If it’s not simple, it’s not going to work. 

When a company making a $5 tracker for you to stick in your children’s backpacks is overwhelmed by fragmentation and complexity – short cuts will undoubtedly be taken. This leaves it up to suppliers across the value chain to adopt a security-by-design mindset, protecting both their products and their customers’ data rights from the silicon up.

The dream of IoT is well and truly alive. But a few key factors are holding these dreams back. Security is a primary concern – IoT is built on a bedrock of data and if that data is compromised, not only are customers put at risk, the reputation of the company holding it is damaged beyond repair. This is why it is so important to get security right and the industry needs to come together to balance the solutions of security and usability head on. 

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