An IoT Vision

Mark’s baby daughter keeps waking up in the middle of the night. He thinks it might be because the room is getting too cold. So he goes down to the local electronics shop and buys a cheap generic IoT temperature sensor.

He takes it home and presses a button on his home’s IoT hub, then swipes the thermometer across the top. A 5 cent NFC tag attached to it tells the hub that this is a device in the “temperature sensor” class (USB-style device classing), accessible over Z-wave, and gives its public key, a password the hub can use to authenticate back to the sensor, and a URL to download a JavaScript driver. The hub shows a green light to show that the device has been registered.

Mark sticks a AAA battery into the sensor and places it on the wall above his baby’s cot. He goes to his computer and brings up his hub’s web interface. It has registered the new device and connected to it securely over the appropriate protocol (the hub speaks Bluetooth LE, wifi and Z-wave). The connection is secure from the start, and requires zero additional configuration. The hub has also downloaded the JS driver and is running it in a sandboxed environment where it can communicate only with the sensor and has access to nothing else. If it were to want to communicate with the outside world, the hub manages the SSL (rather than the device or the driver) so it can log all traffic in cleartext.

Mark views the device’s simple web page (generated by the driver) and sees the room is at 21C. He asks the hub to sample the value every minute and make a chart of the results. The hub knows how to do this for various simple device classes, including temperature sensors.

The next morning, he checks the chart and indeed, at 3am when the baby woke up, the temperature was only 15C. He goes back to the electrical shop and buys an IoT mains passthrough plug and a cheap heater. He registers the plug with the hub as before, then plugs the heater into the passthrough, and the passthrough into a socket in the baby’s room.

Back at the web interface, he gives permission for the plug’s driver to see data from the temperature sensor. However, the default driver for the plug doesn’t have the ability to react to external events. So he downloads an open source one which drives that device class. Anyone can write drivers for a device class because the specs for each class are open. He then tells the new driver to read the temperature sensor, and turn the plug on if the temperature drops below 18C, and off if it rises to 21C. The next night, the baby sleeps through. Success!

The key features of this system are:

  • the automatic registration and instant security, based on a cheap NFC tag which implements an open standard, which allows device makers to make their devices massively easier to use (IoT device return/refund levels are a big problem at the moment);
  • the JS host environment on the hub, which means you can run untrusted code on your network in a sandbox so you can buy IoT devices without the risk of letting random companies snoop on your data, and every device or ecosystem doesn’t need to come with its own controller; and
  • the open standard and device classes which mean all devices and all software is hackable.

Wouldn’t it be great if someone built something like this?

2 thoughts on “An IoT Vision

  1. IoT reality: in the rush to market, none of the security stuff happened. Unknown to you, foreign state hackers take over control of your plug sockets. As part of the next round of trade negotiations, a delegate for a country somewhere in the east discretely hints that unless the outcome is favourable, all the IoT-connected electronics in certain Western nations will soon be experiencing dangerous surges.

    • :-) Fortunately, it’s not possible or a passthrough plug socket to surge the voltage…

      In all seriousness, the fact that IoT usability and security are both in fact terrible is a good reason to see if we can come up with a solution which solves both problems. Instead of the endless “security vs. usability” argument, what if the most secure solution was also the most usable?