In many of its implementations, the Internet of Things (IoT) certainly promises to improve our lives. But there are concerns about the potential trade-off: security breaches and relinquishment of privacy. While many are just realizing the implications, it’s been on the mind of Geoff Mulligan, executive director, IPSO Alliance, for quite some time. 3D InCites talked to Geoff about how the next phase of IPSO Alliance’s work will zero in on privacy and security for smart objects.

The Back Story
“IPSO” stands for Internet Protocol for Smart Objects, ie. using IP for the networking of IoT devices. The IPSO Alliance was formed in 2008 as a natural outgrowth of what Mulligan started when he was helping build ZigBee® in the early 2000s. Questioning why sensor networks were being built using something other than Internet Protocol (IP), he created 6LoWPAN (low power wireless access network), based on the idea that “the Internet Protocol could and should be applied even to the smallest devices.” This became one of the foundational protocols for the IoT and allows sensor networks to easily interoperate using IP.

Fast-forward to 2007-08, when Mulligan engaged with companies like Cisco, Intel and Atmel to discuss the benefits of using open standards to create the IoT. The IPSO Alliance was formed to provide an ecosystem around this, and expound the benefits of open standards. The Alliance spent the next five years evangelizing the benefits IP brings to security, management and scalability. “We did a really good job. The U.S. Smart Grid is based on open standards, due in part to the IPSO Alliance,” he said.

After that, Mulligan said the IPSO Alliance transitioned from “why use IP” to “how to use IP.” It created the IPSO Smart Object Model, which allows devices to interoperate and define semantics so one device can understand another device. Mulligan compared this to a phone system that allows you to call anywhere in the world and communicate, despite the language barrier. For example, if a temperature sensor sends out “20” without indicating if it’s Fahrenheit or centigrade, IPSO Smart Objects can define it.

A challenge to adopting open standards is that people are entrenched in proprietary solutions and want to continue to use them, notes Mulligan. But to meet the IoT vision, we need objects to have identity, privacy and security. This will be the next focus for IPSO.

Security vs. Privacy
“People talk about security and privacy as if they’re the same thing,” noted Mulligan. “We’re more focused on the privacy and identity aspects of data. Security is really a method for enforcing a privacy policy.” However, Mulligan doesn’t dismiss security concerns. In 2013-2014, he was at the White House working on the President’s agenda on IoT and additive 3D printing. “If we’re talking about launching nuclear weapons, we need to have strong security,” he said. “If we’re talking about using a connected device to take someone’s blood pressure, we don’t need the same level of security, but we need privacy regarding the data that produces.” He sees adoption of the IoT and privacy of data associated with it as the broader issue.

“We spent the past 10 years building new protocols without thinking about security and privacy, and now we’re just getting into it,” noted Mulligan. “People think we can bolt on security as an afterthought, but that never works and is fraught with potential problems. We need to take a step back and figure out how the architectures work together. There’s not one owner of the IoT. So how do we create security that allows a chain of trust?”

Companies have been in a rush to jump onto the IoT bandwagon to take advantage of all the hype and to secure market share. Mulligan says it would be optimal if we could stop deployment of smart objects until everything is secured, but that’s not likely to happen.

While many IoT adopters have an “I don’t care” attitude with regard to privacy, they may not be considering all the implications. Who owns the data if it’s sent to the cloud? If health data or driving-habit data is sold to an insurance company, will it affect your rates? What if it’s sold to Apple or the local fitness center for targeting marketing? Or what about data being collected from your electric meter on the side of your house? “It’s my data. I’d like control over it, and I should get to monetize that, not some third party who owns the cloud service,” said Mulligan.

Building Security into Smart Objects
Part of the reason IPSO advocates use of IP is that IP has security protocols that are readily available that involve encryption and key management. It can be applied to building smart objects. We don’t have to invent something new. However, it doesn’t mean it will be properly implemented by the user to secure things.

“Hackers continue to break into computer systems on the Internet because security protocols aren’t turned on or used properly,” said Mulligan. Using smart home systems as an example, he explains that not implementing safety protocols properly could result in security breaches due to user error. He cites a BBC report for which a “black hat” hacker broke into six IoT homes because homeowners hadn’t reset the default password on the various devices. Essentially, educating the general public on the proper implementation of smart devices is critical for the proper implementation of security protocols.

IPSO’s Recommended Approach
According to Mulligan, the most critical part of securing smart devices will be establishing identity and maintaining the life cycle of the product. Having encryption chips embedded in the hardware is easy. The encryption key and its management is the hard part.

He cited the example of LIFX, one of the first companies with an IP-enabled LED lightbulb that combined Wi-Fi with 802.15.4: “They didn’t do it right, and hackers discovered they were transmitting security controls for the home’s wireless network, providing wireless access to the users home.”

Consider if such a lightbulb burned out and was disposed of; there needs to be a way to tell the network that that light is no longer part of the network. Otherwise, it’s not difficult for someone to retrieve that lightbulb and gain access to your home network, and by association, critical personal data.

“People need to be circumspect. We need more education about this technology before you put it into your house,” said Mulligan. For example, security can be built into objects, with applicable management techniques. If the lightbulb is thrown away, the network key can automatically change. You won’t have to worry about it.

“If we use a common language, a common protocol for connecting these things, smart people will work on the higher-level issues too,” said Mulligan. “But if we spend five years debating which to protocol to use, we’re not going to get to work on the real problems about securing the IoT.”

IPSO’s approach to addressing privacy is through small steps. The first step is identity management, by attaching a privacy policy at the creation of the data object and then assigning a unique immutable identity to it.

The bottom line is that IoT security and privacy are not insurmountable. “Really smart people are working on these problems day in and day out,” noted Mulligan. “IPSO’s goal is to make things interoperable by working together rather than in silos.”

There is no one solution, and we will make more progress if we find solutions that work across the entire IoT using open standards. ~ F.v.T

Francoise von Trapp

They call me the “Queen of 3D” because I have been following the course of…

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