The Internet of Old Things

You need to make sure that your next-generation devices are app-enabled and have transactional rollback capability.
By Maarten Ectors

Protecting the Internet of Things
What can be done to protect the future of IoT devices from all of these risks? Hardware manufacturers will need to change their software attitude. They will need to understand that they have a liability in case their software insecurity provokes your house to burn down. They will need to invest in supporting software years after they have sold you a device. And this software will need to be patched every time a critical security issue is discovered.

Unfortunately, profit margins on your IoT devices don't pay for ongoing software maintenance contracts. So how can you do this? We believe you need to separate hardware, hardware low-level software (a.k.a. the kernel), the operating system and software into independent components to allow the process to be automated and as pain-free as possible.

In our own initiative, known as Ubuntu Core, we update the operating system automatically—and for free—because it is important to make the process easy for businesses. The manufacturer updates the kernel or outsources this work to others. The biggest change is software. Software for devices has become apps that you can download or buy via app stores, similar to your mobile phone. The difference is that any company would be able to run their own app store if they wanted to. This means manufacturers will have an ongoing revenue share from app developers and, as such, will make sure your kernel is always up to date.

You need to use the best security technologies to make sure apps are constrained and contained. So, if an app were hostile to other apps and the device, or just badly written, then the operating system would make sure the app couldn't harm anything. Apps are guilty until proven innocent. Additionally, software updates have received a major upgrade. You can update a kernel, the operating system and any app—but if the update fails, then you can simply roll back to the previous working state. This allows manufacturers to try new things and, if they fail, roll them back.

Current devices often have a push-and-pray strategy. The manufacturer pushes an update and prays your device will boot again afterwards. If they make a mistake, then your device could break, sometimes beyond repair. This is the reason why you want to make sure that your next-generation devices are app-enabled and have transactional rollback capability. You will be able to decide which software will run on it, and failed updates will be able to be rolled back.

The App-enabled World of the Internet of New Things
The future of the IoT is a world of devices in which manufacturers will make app-enabled devices just like your smartphone. You will define which apps you run on them. Each family will pick a different combination. Making different smart devices talk to one another will be all about installing the right app on each device.

So, in the future, your Bluetooth speakers will tell you that a very rare Pokémon Go has been spotted just around the corner of your street, years after you bought the speaker, and you will be easily able to find out when your device has last been upgraded. If you are technically skilled, you might start thinking about creating your own smart device app.

Maarten Ectors is the VP of IoT at Canonical, the company behind the award-winning, open-source, app-enabled Ubuntu Core. Maarten invented the concept of the "run your own device" app store.

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