Hype has been growing in recent months for the Internet of Things, which will leverage sensor input in smart machines, machine to machine messaging and big data technologies to improve efficiency and increase oversight in a large variety of fields. But as hype for the Internet of Things grows, so too do the practical considerations such as cybersecurity and interoperability. At the recent Maker Faire in San Mateo, Cali., technology advocate Michael Koster made the case for an Internet of Things based on a set of open coding standards and variables, Network World reported.
One of the challenges currently limiting the effectiveness of Internet of Things technologies is the fact that so much of the data resides in disparate, proprietary systems, Koster said. For instance, while sensor data from GE jet engines is limited to uses related to regulating and maintaining the engines, the information gathered from a sensor grid of thousands of airborne planes could be valuable for improving weather forecasting.
“Sensors and actuators tend to be vertically integrated into proprietary application-specific systems that solve defined problems,” Network World’s Steven Max Patterson explained. “Without the ability to tie heterogeneous and homogeneous networks together, the network effect of these combined islands of automation would have no real impact. Given the state of the IOT today, a great deal of brute-force programming would be required to combine disparate systems of sensors and actuators.”
Conversely, Koster’s proposed open source framework would standardize the APIs and taxonomies of different vendors’ data models, greatly enhancing interoperability. A developer writing software designed to read data from thermostats manufactured by different vendors would be able to use the same variable names, data types and methods, Network World noted.
As vendors move toward adoption of such a standard, tools such as static analysis software will be valuable for ensuring code is compliant and functional throughout. Such tools can also help tackle one of the other major advance planning challenges of the Internet of Things, cybersecurity.
Strengthening security with advance planning
The connected nature of the Internet of Things raises substantial security challenges: If all devices are networked, they become that much easier for attackers to access. This cybersecurity hurdle could be particularly large with the open standards and extensive sharing via APIs that Koster’s Open Source Internet of Things initiative proposes. He suggested that security will based around policy and ownership, in the sense that a policy might be installed that would allow a large authenticated group to read a sensor and a smaller authenticated group of owners to modify device settings.
In a recent blog post for the Harvard Business Review, IOT consultants Christopher J. Rezendes and David Stephenson agreed, generally, that businesses investing in IOT technologies will need to consider such standards extensively before making implementations. With greater connectivity, the need for new standards of construct (i.e. secure development) and standards of conduct (i.e. security policies) will be substantial.
“You should plan, too, to devote serious time and thought to developing policy around your IoT investments,” they wrote. “Ask ‘why’ something should be connected before connecting it. Who will benefit? How? A set of key questions like these becomes a very useful framework for working with partners to frame mutually agreed policies.”
By preparing to meet security needs and interoperability standards before any new IOT technology is implemented, businesses will ensure that the latest advances in efficiency come with tradeoffs in security. Using tools such as static analysis software, they can catch potential security flaws and eliminate inconsistencies with open IOT standards.
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