IoT Security
Vehicle console monitor showing screen shot of computer system was hacked. Concept for risk of self-driving car. 3D rendering image.

IoT Security – What Does It Mean For Electrical and Electronics Designers?

In the electronics and electrical engineering design communities there is plenty of talk about IoT, particularly in relation to the opportunities, but arguably the more pressing issue right now is the need to design for security in the connected world. At the core of this is the concept of ‘trust’, consumers/businesses need to trust product manufacturers to deliver reliable robust products with the necessary defences against criminals. Forging ahead without appreciating the vulnerabilities that IoT security poses for individuals and companies seems irresponsible for those involved in the development and manufacture of connected devices. Well-known examples like the Jeep Cherokee hack and takeover of the Ukranian power plant could only be just an indication of what might be ahead of us.

I was at the IoT Security Foundation Conference a few weeks ago, which hammered home the need to design with security in mind from the outset.

Highlights from the speakers

Martin Borrett, CTO at IBM Europe, cited a great analogy. He asked the audience to think of what the brakes are used for in a car – duh, to stop surely? Well yes, but the better your brakes are the faster you can drive. This, he said, is what IoT security is all about.

Gartner analyst Aapo Markkanen said that product design decisions need to be made with the security consequences in mind. He talked about doing security “quantum safe”.

Dr Raalf Huuck from Synopsys highlighted the weaknesses at the point of systems integration.

Trust and standards

Throughout the day there was much discussion around the ‘chain of trust’, ‘trusted sources’ and ‘trusted identity’, creating these and self-managing these on a consumer level. This does imply a degree of education and tech awareness across society. To be honest some of the concepts baffled me; more from a societal acceptance point of view (but I’m going to park that debate for now).

The fundamental issue is creating, building and maintaining trust – with technology and processes being the backbone of this.

Which doesn’t just lie on the firmware or at the encrypted chip level (and many other levels), but trust in the reliability of products – something that everyone in the product development and manufacturing process has an impact on no matter what industry. Even if you’re simply designing an ‘smart’ light bulb, as this article in HelpNetSecurity by Geoff Webb from Micro Focus illustrates.

For those of you designing a wire harness or a PCB, this means proving the robustness of your designs, being able to work with trusted design processes, maybe a rise in the adoption and demand for complying to specific industry standards.

What next for IOT security and me as a designer?

There’s certainly some opportunities on the horizon that are likely to empower you as a designer. The ability to monitor a product in use and report back upon its performance is an area that could help you improve the quality of designs, which comes back to my point about product robustness above.

I’m interested to see how all of this is going to progress over the next 10-20 years. There’s surely more implications on an electrical and electronics engineering design level.

How do you think it’s going to affect your job and the products you design?

Embracing IoT to improve your product development process

For more information on this topic, specifically related to electronics hardware design, read Bob Potock’s new White Paper on ‘IoT and Modular Design’, which looks at how you can embrace the connected world to improve the product development process.

Check out the YouTube movie below showing the Jeep Cherokee hack.

You may also like...