The age of the connected device is upon us - and the predictions are that businesses involved in the Internet of Things (IoT) will deploy and operate billions of devices - of all shapes and sizes - over the next few years. Refrigeration Innovation (RI) is a part of this revolution.
But there is a potential shadow looming over even the most optimistic promoters of the IoT vision - and that's the fear of uncontrolled security compromises. The picture of IoT that's being painted quite frequently in the press is mesmerizingly complex - where all types of device recognize and "talk" to each other in an ad-hoc manner. There are some attractions to be found in what this complex picture can enable - but the corresponding down side, created in no small way by the immaturity of device to device communication implementations, is a vastly increased attack surface for those with malicious intent.
So what's the right path to choose here? This industry watcher advocates architectural simplicity in the base IoT application and uncompromisingly firm security foundations in the devices supporting the IoT application. If you start an IoT business venture and you are unable to vouch for the integrity of your connected devices (at launch - and throughout the timeline of the business), you are not only putting your own enterprise at risk but are potentially creating the vehicle for some future botnet attack that may compromise the business of others. It's reassuring that the team at RI recognizes and addresses these potential issues up front to create a truly solid example of IoT architecture.
So what are the cardinal points of the approach taken by RI and other industry leaders? A few key elements are key to building these firm foundations:
- Consider the primary business driver that benefits from connected devices and build a dedicated device to cloud connection system that supports this primary silo of data transfer. In this scenario devices have an unambiguous cloud "owner" and management resource - which greatly simplifies the picture of responsibility for device integrity.
- Ensure that all devices have at least the protection of a secure bootstrap mechanism so that only verifiably signed code images can be executed - eliminating nearly all the potential issues related to device hijacking. As a natural corrolary of this, its important to enable a device update service that is based on equivalently signed images - all code needs updates over time as the threat activity on the network evolves, especially today's devices that include open source components frequently subject to compromise alerts of various kinds. As the owner/operator or a connected device its going to be your responsibility to create and distribute such updates.
- Critically, ensure that all the devices in the IoT application are identified and fully authenticated when they connect with the cloud application components.There are very mature approaches that fully support communication and authentication using digital certificates connected to a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) hierarchy. Among others, AWS supports a highly effective version of this approach in it's AWS IoT framework, which certainly is a good place to start. Again, management of such an infrastructure is well understood when devices and cloud applications are linked by an identifiable trust authority.
And so, we can point to the new RI SensorSimple solution as an example of how these principles can be followed carefully while still bringing a cost effective solution to market. SensorSimple is designed to create a simple and compelling value proposition for those who need environmental monitoring and alerting - but also to create a business tool with firm foundations in security and device integrity.