Embedded World 2017 – IoT coming of age.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending Embedded World 2017 in Germany as I was invited to give a couple of presentations on the pioneering work we have been doing at the prpl Foundation with regards to the prplHypervisor™ and prplPUF™ APIs for securing IoT. As it turns out, IoT was the top line at the conference that drew in more than 30,000 trade visitors – and the event solidified the notion that embedded computing is now synonymous with IoT.

IoT Security: Pushing the boundaries of resource constrained devices

The main theme running throughout was the challenge of pushing resource constrained devices to the limits. From a tech provider’s perspective, this was the most pervasive, well-defined issue being tackled at the show – how do we push the capabilities when it comes to functionality and security in low power devices with limited memory and minimal CPU resources? With IoT, applying security technology after the fact or using encryption as used in a traditional security model is simply not an option in devices that don’t have the battery power, memory or CPU to support such measures, much less being able to afford the expense when the device itself costs so little. Yet, the fact that these are physical devices makes them so much more dangerous to human life and therefore the security should be taken just as seriously as that of a data centre.

Open Source as (one) answer

The answer for much of these basic security questions meant that more and more vendors are adopting – or seriously considering – the use of open source software. Though not everyone was aligned with the true value of open source, some even felt opportunistic, it was encouraging that the message of using open source, with all the extra eyes on it, is getting through. Having said that, and knowing that open source software is notoriously more resilient than proprietary, closed source software – it does have its issues that vendors and manufacturers need to be aware of. Namely, though it is open and freely available, open source is not free. Yes, there is no licensing fee, but that is not to say it doesn’t come with the expenses of developing expertise, ensuring the organisation using it has the right liability cover, maintenance and working with open source communities to get the best out of it. As with anything in life, using open source requires upkeep to get the most from it.

In silicon we trust

Using open source protocols to get the basics right in IoT means that embedded devices can truly be interoperable with each other. What stops this from being a security risk is trust. The other element I discussed and which received over an hour of questions from the audience was the prplPUF™ API, the Physical Unclonable Funtions implementation of the prplSecurity™framework. I think everyone can agree that we’ve established that embedding secrets in a device is just not a good idea – and if you need proof, look no further than the Vault 7 revelations; not even the CIA can hide such secrets. Instead, what if you could extract a unique identifier from the silicon itself, something that is exclusive and repeatable and unable to be cloned? This could have all sorts of applications for improving and strengthening security in embedded devices and the real genius of it is that it’s something that already exists with in the hardware itself – much like a digital fingerprint. By using the prpl platform which combines open source with the use of a light-weight hypervisor for security by separation and PUF to establish trust in embedded systems, we’re looking at a much safer future for IoT.