Canonical makes a play at Industrial IoT security with Ubuntu 16
Canonical makes a play at Industrial IoT security with Ubuntu 16
Canonical makes a play at Industrial IoT security with Ubuntu 16

Canonical makes a play at Industrial IoT security with Ubuntu 16

Computer software company, Canonical, has today released its latest open source software platform, Ubuntu 16, in a move to tackle IoT device security.

The Ubuntu 16 is designed for the Internet of Things (IoT), and supposedly features regular and reliable security updates, and app stores for intelligent connected devices in the Industrial market.

The operating system is needed, argues Canonical CEO and founder, Mark Shuttleworth, to tackle security concerns held by developers and vendors alike, and to help those manufacturing IoT devices to bring them to market. Canonical will also target leading edge developers, as it believes the edge will require new thinking in the coming years.

Making the case for Ubuntu 16

In a global briefing call to journalists this afternoon, Shuttleworth and Dell’s director of IoT strategy and partnership Jason Shepherd explained their thinking behind the product and why the two came together.

For Shuttleworth the reasons are twofold. Firstly, we need to “avoid the trap of distributed devices that are not managed and can easily become a liability,” he said, citing the DDoS attack on Dyn which took out Twitter and other popular sites last Friday.

Secondly, he said that while hardware is critical “the ability to evolve and diversify around software is the real magic,” so bringing the two together is absolutely essential. His platform should, therefore, address both problems.

The Ubuntu 16 run down

So what does it do? Ubuntu 16 is an operating system for IoT devices. It is delivered to devices via the cloud as a base filesystem, which contains numerous files compressed into one zip file. These files are known as ‘snaps’, which are securely confined, read-only, tamper-proof application images, digitally signed to the integrity of IoT software. They are essentially apps, which come with a free choice of container runtimes and coordination systems.

These snaps deliver security, management, operations and upgradability in a compact, developer-friendly platform, according to Canonical. Snaps cannot be modified, so Shuttleworth claims; they are also common to all manufacturers, “a mechanism we think really does change the game in terms of security of devices.”

Ubuntu Core is already in use in top-of-rack switches, industrial gateways, home gateways, radio access networks, digital signage, robots and drones. Shuttleworth claims that Ubuntu is actually used in every driverless car he has seen, but he also sees its uses for smart cities and robotics among other industrial use cases.

Taking back control

While acknowledging that no device can be completely secure, Shuttleworth made it clear that this software makes life more difficult for potential hackers. A lawnmower running Ubuntu 16, for example, will update itself every day. It can also get new software installed on it that will give it new security capabilities.

This Update Control feature will allow software publishers and manufacturers to validate updates across the ecosystem before they are applied, while the snap updates are transactional, which means that failures are automatically rolled back, giving developers the confidence to update their applications regularly.

“Key to IoT security is the ability to update software,” Shuttleworth said. “So the critical thing we’ve done is to give each actor in the system the ability to publish updates to devices, which are digitally signed, and to give the device the ability to pick and choose between the updates which it thinks the healthiest. That allows the millions of devices to essentially self-update to address security issues.”

So where do partners like Dell come in?

Dell wants to be the architecture provider of choice for players in the IoT market, according to Jason Shepherd, so choosing to partner with Canonical was a no-brainer.

“As companies continue to embrace Internet of Things solutions, security and quick, easy system updates are critical,” said Jason Shepherd, Director of Strategy and Partnerships, IoT, Dell. “Dell has been working with Canonical on Ubuntu Core for over a year, and our Dell Edge Gateways are fully certified for Ubuntu Core 16.  This enables Dell to offer the long term support and security that IoT use cases such as factory and building automation demand.”

With Ubuntu Core 16, device manufacturers can choose from a wide range of chipset, SoC and Single Board Computer vendors supporting Ubuntu Core, such as the Raspberry Pi 2 and 3, the Qualcomm Dragonboard 410c and the Intel Joule.