How often the ingenious find opportunity in failure! The number of OEMs installing security on consumer devices still has not hit critical mass. Therefore, there continues to be wireless (and wired, of course) device manufacturing community delivering product without any, or even bare minimum, security features.
That is not good news. With the continuing evolution of the Internet of Everything/Everyone (IoX) and the 5G infrastructure, continuing along this path is a recipe for disaster. In fact, some believe 2018 may be the year when the IoX becomes the vehicle for that major security breach experts have been warning about.
Here is why. Many of these devices (“smart” phones/tablets, appliances, security systems, home control, vehicles, etc.) are extremely “nosey.” By nosey I mean they are intimately connected, via home or mobile networks and the internet, to the lives of the consumer. And in many cases not just a piece of the user’s makeup. Virtually everything users, and those connected to them, do, is partly or wholly available on these devices.
These devices are becoming increasingly more intelligent in the sense that they all have, to one degree or another, a level of computer sophistication – some are extremely sophisticated. Further, with the next generation of AI, which is highly visible in devices such as Alexa, Google Home, Apple HomePod, and similar devices, it becomes an ecosystem that is ripe for a major breach.
Now, back to the beginning. Fortunately, some vendors are sensing an opportunity situation. While many are still counting on security being provided in the user’s software layers, others are developing hardware that is capable of placing a much tighter security blanket around these unsecured devices and networks.
Several manufacturers have developed a “smart” router. Now, this does not mean they have the same level of sophistication as dedicated encryption devices (which should be in every Internet-enabled device), but it does ratchet up the security profile a notch or two. Security and hardware vendors, such a Norton, Optimum, Netgear, Linksys and others are all seeing the wisdom (and opportunity) in stepping up to the home security plate. This is a huge step forward in this segment of the industry.
Now, is this enough? No. However, what this does is put a filter on what comes and goes into and out of the network. It is only effective for the area it is securing, however. If devices are outside of this net (smartphones/tablets/other mobile platforms, for example) all bets are off. However, they can be extremely effective in the home circumference, which is the biggest security vulnerability in today’s network infrastructure.
Now, their security protocol is not bleeding-edge. They have simply optimized some easily addressed issues. One being hardware resources. These devices are a bit more expensive than your run of the mill routers because they have upped such things as memory, both R/W and flash. They also contain a more sophisticated CPU – both of these aid in the router’s ability to function outside of the dumb router box.
With larger memory cores and more sophisticate processors, the router can dedicate more resources to keeping current in real time. For example, they implement cloud connectivity. While that may not seem all that significant, it is the best way to keep it current. This is a critical metric because the nature of having devices receive updates and patches, automatically, is woefully ignored by device manufactures.
Those same resources allow additional or expanded security protocols to be integrated – not just standard WEP and WPS. They also have the ability to monitor traffic more thoroughly and apply better algorithms, both in number and sophistication to recognize threats.
The final advantage and the pièce de résistance is app manageability – the capability to manage the router and all connected devices from your smart product. After all, we measure our cool factor in today’s wireless world by that metric. I have more apps than you do!
Ernest Worthman is the Executive Editor/Applied Wireless Technology. His 20-plus years of editorial experience includes being the Editorial Director of Wireless Design and Development and Fiber Optic Technology, the Editor of RF Design, the Technical Editor of Communications Magazine, Cellular Business, Global Communications and a Contributing Technical Editor to Mobile Radio Technology, Satellite Communications, as well as computer-related periodicals such as Windows NT. His technical writing practice client list includes RF Industries, GLOBALFOUNDRIES, Agilent Technologies, Advanced Linear Devices, Ceitec, SA, and others. Before becoming exclusive to publishing, he was a computer consultant and regularly taught courses and seminars in applications software, hardware technology, operating systems, and electronics. Ernest’s client list has included Lucent Technologies, Jones Intercable, Qwest, City and County of Denver, TCI, Sandia National Labs, Goldman Sachs, and other businesses. His credentials include a BS, Electronic Engineering Technology; A.A.S, Electronic Digital Technology. He has held a Colorado Post-Secondary/Adult teaching credential, member of IBM’s Software Developers Assistance Program and Independent Vendor League, a Microsoft Solutions Provider Partner, and a life member of the IEEE. He has been certified as an IBM Certified OS2 consultant and trainer; WordPerfect Corporation Developer/Consultant and Lotus Development Corporation Developer/Consultant. He was also a first-class FCC technician in the early days of radio. Ernest Worthman may be contacted at: [email protected].