IoT security is ‘a ticking time bomb’ we’re all living with

Security hit the headlines last week with comments made by Cesare Garlati, chief security strategist at the prpl Foundation, on the lack of progress towards a secure environment for the Internet of Things (IoT). (See our exclusive report: Industry losing patience as regulators fail to keep up with IoT consumer security concerns.)

His thoughts just begged more questions. So here he talks in depth to Jeremy Cowan at

IoT Now: Is there any evidence of a change of approach by the USA’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to address IoT security?

Cesare Garlati (CG): There is evidence of a change in approach by not only the FTC, but the FCC and the EPA as well.  They are starting to recognise when products are unsafe and should be taken off the market, but there are no certifications involved.  They are not mandating these at production level– instead focusing on taking products off the market that are later deemed to be unsafe.

While these are steps in the right direction, fines are not enough as clearly manufacturers are not taking action to fix the problem at the source – i.e “baking” security in at the hardware level.

IoT Now: If the FTC does not quickly begin to consider IoT as a critical area of security vulnerabilities how should the IoT sector react?

Cesare Garlati: The IoT is already here, security for it is not
Cesare Garlati: The IoT is already here, security for it is not

CG: It is not the sole duty of the FTC to look after the security of IoT – it is far too broad. Rather the sector itself, comprised of regulators, manufacturers and consumers, should take actions in their own ways:

Regulators need to work with manufacturers and offer rules/mandates that ensure they are developing safer devices.

Manufacturers need to self regulate and agree on a bare minimum security hygiene to ensure they get the basics of security right.  They need to agree to compete on value-add and innovation, not fundamental components such as security – which means opting for open source in these areas as opposed to proprietary software that can easily be reverse engineered.

Consumers need to stop viewing security as an annoyance, but rather as a key feature.  As such, they can vote with their wallets and resolve to buy only the most secure, reputable devices.

IoT Now: Will it fall to bodies like the prpl Foundation and the Cloud Security Alliance to create the right security environment through ecosystems instead of Standards?

CG: Standards are enforced or adopted, whereas the role of the prpl Foundation and Cloud Security Alliance is to help industries self-regulate through open communities and work towards the greater good.  The CSA deals with the cloud aspect of connected devices, but this aspect is not present in all IoT devices.

The prpl Foundation’s role is to focus on securing the endpoint through use of open source software, ensuring there is a secure boot function and by use of hardware virtualisation to enforce security by separation.  The two organisations work closely together to help at every stage of IoT development.

IoT Now: Which other organisations should help to deliver the changes you seek?

CG: There are plenty of organisations out there, so look for the ones that are truly independent and whose members come from cross-industry and cross-platform environments. They should have supplier-side, manufacturer-side and consumer protection input and offer actionable, useful research and guidance.

Too many IoT organisations today are either too broad in their messaging or offer no meaningful deliverables that will be of benefit to the wider community.  The prpl Foundation and Cloud Security Alliance are two big exceptions.

IoT Now: How long can the IoT sector wait to see if the FTC responds positively?

CG: Unfortunately, there is no time limit on this one – IoT is rather like a ticking time bomb.  It is here, we are living with it, from transport, critical infrastructure and healthcare to the connected home, automobiles and even drones.

Yet, while the IoT is already here, the security for it is not and therefore, action is needed before we experience devastating consequences.

Cesare Garlati is chief security strategist at prpl Foundation.

Jeremy Cowan, IoT Now

Jeremy Cowan (above) is editorial director & publisher of IoT Now.


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