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Help…my IOT device is not working or has been hacked…

Help…my IOT device is not working or has been hacked…

GartnerThat may the most common help desk call you may be hearing about in the near future…

We all know about the projected boom of Internet of Things (IoT) enabled devices and sensors, and how that is altering the business landscape for almost every industry (even though the analyst firm Gartner puts it at “Peak of Inflated Expectations”). Examples I am personally working with range from use of IoT from as simple as asset tracking to “intelligent farming/ranching” to “smart buildings” to smart coolers” to “connected health“. – which leads me to believe that IoT is here to stay…and will create a whole new ecosystem of service providers.

IoT has several well-documented limitations – solving those issues will create the IoT leaders of tomorrow .

As everything, from a lamp post to a cow get embedded with a device or sensor with an IP address, and as we move from IPv4 (with about 23 billion IP addresses) to IPv6 (with trillion+ potential addresses), unique identifiers may not be a problem (yet).

The bigger problems are around security and battery life on the sensors. 

Cattle-WatchFirst, the battery life – idea is to reduce the dependence on a field person to swap batteries in remote locations – the good news is that there are quite a few solutions available today, as well as under test. For example, I recently read about a technology, available today, which can harness WiFi networks for powering IoT sensors – “Freevolt harvests energy from RF frequency waves from radio masts and wireless networks, which bounce around the atmosphere. Everything from 2G to 5G networks and even your home Wi-Fi are all food for Freevolt, turning wasted energy into real power…”. Other examples include using rechargeable Li-Ion batteries in conjunction with solar panels for use in devices like parking meters or creating a mesh network using “smart collars” for cows. 

Another angle to this issue could be to reduce the power needed from a network perspective to the bare minimum – for example, Ericsson recently announced their Power Saving Mode “Power Saving Mode is an Ericsson Evolved Packet Core feature based on 3GPP (Release 12) for both GSM and LTE networks. Ericsson contends the feature is able to dramatically extend IoT device battery life up to ten years or more for common use cases and traffic profiles. The capability is defined for both LTE and GSM technologies and lets devices enter a new deep sleep mode – for hours or even days at a time – and only wake up when needed. ..”. Other advances include Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs) and similar technologies.

As these technologies improve and the costs come down, it will add to the ubiquity of IoT devices and sensors.

ikettle_smart_kettleNow the security aspect – much has been written about the hacked Jeep Cherokee or the “not-so-Smart Kettle” – both these scenarios are real, and of great concern. This problem is compounded by the fact that most legacy industrial machine-to-machine protocols, as well as legacy applications in use today do not account for the sheer number of connections or the security advances of today.

“For years, manufacturers of medical devices depended on the ‘kindness of strangers’ assuming that devices would never be targeted by bad actors,” wrote John Halamka, the Chief Information Officer at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital. “EKG machines, IV pumps, and radiology workstations are all computers, often running un-patched old operating systems, ancient Java virtual machines, and old web servers that no one should currently have deployed in production.”

I was reading an interesting viewpoint by Dr. David Bray, CIO of the FCC. His view is that we could learn from a public health type of scenario to improve security – like a mashup of cyber personal hygiene and cyber epidemiology“If we think of the Internet as a series of digital ecosystems where participants need to assume some responsibility for making sure they’re doing their best to keep their Internet devices clean and secure – the digital equivalent of washing their hands – then we can also imagine the need for cyber epidemiology when individual hygiene is insufficient in preventing a mass ‘outbreak’ or individual infection,”

Such a public health scenario may help to a certain extent, but the good news is that there is a bevy of startups tacking this problem from a hardware perspective. An example is a PowerGuard device being developed by a startup called Virta Labs“The PowerGuard device is limited to monitoring and could not block an infection. However, using it could greatly narrow the window of opportunity that an attacker would have to establish a foothold in a sensitive environment subsequent to compromising a device…The devices would also help spot changes in a device’s operation that may be unrelated to malicious activity, helping hospitals, manufacturing firms and the like identify hardware that is in need of servicing…”

To add to all this, there are the new crop of monitoring and services companies, waiting in the wings for the mass deployment…

So whether Gartner places IoT at “Peak of Inflated Expectations”: or “trough of Disillusionment”, I am bullish on the future with IoT and the ecosystem around it…