Despite Google’s best efforts with IoT, are we building the Internet of...

Despite Google’s best efforts with IoT, are we building the Internet of Mess?

Search giant reflects calls for IoT openness, standards, compatibility, security and privacy — as long as its ‘unique’ vision is still differentiated

Google has used its ‘Ubiquity’ IoT Developer Summit this week (yes Google, our invite must have got lost in the post) to reaffirm its wider stance on many of the still-nascent technological standards, methodologies and prototyping approaches being deployed across the technology landscape.

With a possible 1.5 trillion ‘things’ on the planet that could eventually become IoT endpoints when connected, now seems like a fairly prudent time to try and talk big picture. If we accept that out of that possible 1.5 trillion things, we only see 10 billion IoT devices in connected existence today in 2016, then that represents somewhere around a mere 0.06 percent. Now is a good time to formulate some agreed best practices.

In this regard then, the search giant has spoken openly about an IoT vision that directly embraces and champions the use of open source code.

Caveats in the face of openness

Google’s caveats in the face of even more markedly increased openness include the need to underline standards, the need for compatibility, security and privacy across the IoT as it grows. Where Google aims to still ‘uniquely differentiate’ itself in this open code arena is through its already substantial research and development prowess in search and cloud (obviously), but also in machine learning and geo-location technologies.

So where is Google going right now with tangible IoT developments? Well, Project Brillo is the codename for a developer preview of an Android-based embedded operating system platform by Google.

“Brillo brings the simplicity and speed of software development to hardware for IoT with an embedded OS, core services, developer kit and developer console,” insists Google.

Being a ‘subset’ of Android (and therefore a subset of Linux), Brillo’s existence gives software application developers an existing ecosystem of tools, processes and support infrastructure elements.

But here’s where Google could be playing an intelligent card that the rest of the industry should pick up on. Brillo supports numerous different silicon device architectures, which means that IoT device manufacturers should in theory be able to enjoy greater flexibility in terms of build cost-versus-performance when it comes to design.

Is Google making sense?

There are, after all, millions of experienced Android developers out there. So giving them tools that they know within an open framework that they can move around in seems to make sense.

With Brillo we can also see that Google is aligning to the IoT architectures laid down by both Qualcomm and ARM. This is good because a) it allows IoT development to sit within a security framework that has the ability to protect the applications in use from vulnerabilities and b) it can control updates to the operating system itself in a secure manner.

Google also has its fingers in the pie for open source beacons, networking technologies and software application development at a higher level. The Google ‘Eddystone’ open source project promises to give users better location and proximity experiences by providing a strong context signal for their devices in the form of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons. Google has about 20 Eddystone beacon manufacturing partners at this time, but do we know how much security provisioning work is being done here?

Paul Fletcher, cyber-security evangelist at Alert Logic spoke to Internet of Business to say, “The theory of openness, standards, compatibility, security and privacy for all (potentially 1.5 trillion) IoT endpoints follows sound and reasonable thought, however, the application and operation of such a task could prove overwhelming on a global scale.

“The large number of manufacturers of these devices that are already in production and for those organisations creating new IoT endpoints at a high rate, could be difficult to manage. This concept is probably more suited for an academic pursuit, for the purpose of research and perhaps a PhD candidate’s doctoral dissertation.”

“It may be worth having the conversation and perhaps defining guidelines and/or frameworks, but beyond that, the operational side of such standardisation may be too big a task,” added Fletcher. “It seems like a positive idea and a conversation worth having. Generally, pre-planning and forethought towards improving technology may not get optimal results, but that work wouldn’t go to waste and could prove to be worthwhile.”

Critical point of the IoT curve

“It’s critical to establish clear industry standards and best practices at this point of the growth curve in IoT development and adoption,” said Greg Fitzgerald, chief marketing officer at Cylance.

Speaking to Internet of Business, Fitzgerald asserts that without industry standards and guidelines, “device developers are likely to try to build security into their devices according to their own ideas of best practices, which could leave many of them ‘hackable’ by determined threat actors.

“Even the devices that operate independently and are relatively closed systems are going to be connected to other devices over time – and the bridges that are built to make that possible could open up a number of vulnerabilities. Generally speaking, though, security technology for IoT devices are available. In order to be effective without affecting user experience on small devices, the best solutions have an extremely small footprint and use only a tiny fraction of CPU resources.”

The Internet of mess

In terms of reaction to the kinds of developments we are seeing here (yes, even those coming out of Google) a good number of industry watchers are convinced that the Internet of Things is something of a mess.

Remember when you used to carry a camera, a phone, a stereo music player, a compass, a map, a pager and a miniature TV set (okay, go with that last one for argument) around with you all as separate items? Well, this is pretty much what we are heading for with the IoT if we end up needing a separate application to control our heating and another to control our home security cameras and other to look after our smart fridge.

Instead, of course, we need an Internet of Things where we can fall back on one single HOME CONTROL COMMAND CENTRE (or call it what you will). If we don’t get this right now it will be worse than more than one app i.e. it will be more than one platform and more than one device log-in and more than one set of protocols and interconnectivity standards.

If we don’t get this IoT standards thing right now, then you may as well just get up off the sofa and turn the light switch off with your fingers like you used to — and nobody wants to see that nightmare played out.