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EdgeX Foundry Member Spotlight: Two Bulls

By December 26, 2017 January 23rd, 2019 No Comments

The EdgeX Foundry community is comprised of a diverse set of member companies that represent the IoT ecosystem. The Member Spotlight blog series highlights these members and how they are contributing to and leveraging open source solutions. Today, we sat down with Noah Harlan, EdgeX Foundry Board Member and Founder of Two Bulls, to discuss the IoT market, connected devices and security.  

When we talk about IoT we mostly think of consumer IoT, but there is also managed consumer IoT (like security devices offered by ADT/Comcast/Verizon) and Industrial IoT. Can you talk a bit about the IoT market in general?

IoT is a marketing term for connected devices. Any edge device that connects to either a central system or makes itself available via the internet can plausibly be viewed as IoT.

Practically speaking I would bucket IoT into consumer and industrial but the edges quickly become fuzzy. A single apartment with a connected thermostat is clearly consumer IoT but if that apartment’s connected thermostat is part of a building-wide HVAC system is that now Industrial? To the company that installed the building-wide system, probably since they’re B2B2C, while the building management is in the middle (B2C), but to the apartment resident it’s a consumer product. Furthermore, when you expand outward and look at areas like smart cities which may involve a mixture of stakeholders it’s hard to differentiate. TL;DR: perspective matters. So given that, if you view it all as connected devices, then the underlying technologies need to address connectivity and devices, not an “Internet of Things.”

 

Can you tell us about your own solutions for the IoT world?

Two Bulls is a digital and connected product consultancy that works with some of the world’s biggest brands and most innovative startups to bring great products to market. We provide strategic, design, and development services and handle everything from embedded systems, to cloud infrastructure, to user interfaces and everything in between. We currently are working on products in the consumer IoT, smart cities, and industrial IoT spaces and our client list includes Verizon, Vodafone, Qualcomm, LIFX, and many others. 

IoT devices have earned the reputation of Insecure Internet of Things. Why do we keep hearing so many attacks and vulnerabilities in IoT device? 

Poor planning and poor design has led to some very significant security breaches or lapses, whether that was in the form of hacks like the Mirai botnet or overaggressive data gathering (always-on listening TVs and toys). While guaranteeing perfect security is extremely hard, putting in place a set of basic best practices mitigates the risks. When devices are deployed which are connected but can’t be updated or rely on hard-to-update common default security credentials, you are asking for a problem.

Furthermore, when a large company is hacked, it may include your credit card information but the breach is still relatively abstract to you as an individual whereas when you find out that a security camera in your house was breached you feel it very acutely and as more and more devices gain connectivity, the possibility of nefarious actors doing bad things grows. Hacking your email account is bad. Hacking the lock on your front door is potentially catastrophic.

There are two components of IoT devices – the Edge device and the backend server. Where do you see is the problem when it comes to security?

If you don’t worry about end to end, then you’re not thinking about security seriously. That said, we have good protocols for encryption of the upstream communications and we have a lot of experience with protecting backends. Where we have a harder problem is the device-to-device communication at the edge, particularly when there are multiple protocols involved. The protocol translation issue is a very hard security problem. If I am a router and I have a device on one side that speaks Protocol A and a device on the other that speaks Protocol B and I want to translate, I can’t generally rely on end-to-end encryption. I have to decrypt the messages from A, translate them, and then encrypt them when I send them off to B. The challenge becomes how do you determine trust for the translator so that all parties feel comfortable with a “man in the middle” being able to view everything and that the translator is both legitimate and uncompromised.

In most cases we have seen that IoT devices don’t get software updates and patches. Should IoT devices adopt an OS similar to Container OS where the systems are automatically updated? 

Any good edge operating system should have inbuilt systems for easy remote updating or they will eventually be subject to a security risk. Period. 

How much is standardized when it comes to IoT platform (the OS level) and applications?

Currently, nothing is “standardized” and thus a platform like EdgeX Foundry that can acknowledge that the proliferation of protocols and transports likely won’t consolidate for a range of reasons. It provides a system for translation, processing, and gateway security that  are essential and valuable going forward.

Do you think government and regulations can play some role in forcing IoT vendors to take security seriously?
I have worked with members of Congress on their first steps looking at IoT, in particular Cory Booker who is co-sponsoring the DIGIT Act which is making its way through Congress now. My best advice to them was to work to avoid a patchwork of security rules (one set for health, another for automotive, another for consumer, etc…) as that would lead to conflicting rules and stifle innovation. Instead, I encouraged them to establish a privacy and security spectrum which defines the requirements of each place on the spectrum (eg: at one end devices with very little security or privacy and at the other devices with very high security or privacy) and to encourage or require IoT vendors to declare their device’s “tier” in the Security & Privacy Spectrum (eg: a connected speaker with no microphone might be a level 3 device while a connected blood pressure monitor is a level 7 device while a pacemaker is a level 10 device because if it get hacked someone could die). This would mean that regulators would stay out of the minutia of defining *how* to comply and simply state what compliance means. This frees the industry to innovate and gives them a bar to measure against.