Making the ‘Internet of Things’ more private and secure?

Researchers from iMinds - KU Leuven say that using open source software is key

Net Futures (Brussels) – 26 March, 2015. Experts from iMinds - KU Leuven have urged the audience of the Net Futures 2015 conference to rethink the architecture of the Internet of Things (IoT). In pursuit of a more private and secure IoT, they recommend avoiding the unnecessary centralization of massive amounts of data and strongly suggest to use open source software, as this allows for more thorough and transparent fault checks and bug reporting.

Complementing its ongoing research in this domain, iMinds today also announced it is one of the founding partners of the European Commission’s brand-new ‘Alliance for IoT Innovation’ (AIOTI).

The Internet of Things (IoT) will completely change the way we live and work: billions of connected devices (ranging from household to industrial appliances) will provide a constant flow of data and knowledge, and will help us make better decisions in all aspects of our lives. Yet, the IoT also comes with a number of challenges – notably in the domains of privacy and security.

An open-source approach to making the Internet of Things more private and secure

As the IoT matures, we risk no longer being in control. Connected devices monitor our activities and behavior 24/7 and – unless stringent security mechanisms are in place – all of the info these devices gather, might be shared (without our consent) with unknown players. It is a threat that particularly holds true if the IoT is built on so-called ‘closed source software’.

“The source code of closed source software is not freely accessible – so that potential privacy and security risks cannot be detected, assessed and addressed by the development community,” said Prof. Dr. Bart Preneel from iMinds - KU Leuven during his speech at Net Futures. “During previous IT revolutions, we had the luxury of deploying new technologies first and cleaning up the mess afterwards – which is quite like building a plane while flying. But that’s not an option when rolling out the IoT. If a smart thermostat gets hacked and people find themselves waking up in either a freezing or an overheated house, chances are big they will throw out this device and replace it with a (much cheaper and) dumb alternative that cannot be manipulated or hacked at all. They might even throw away all of their connected devices, as they will start to question the IoT’s reliability.”

That’s what recently happened in the Netherlands, where numerous households opposed to the installation of smart energy meters in their houses as they are afraid criminals will intercept the data or even hack the meters.

“There’s no need to panic, but we do have to think of ways to protect our data and keep them as local as possible (ideally in our personal environment); the cloud is not the ultimate solution to everything. Technologically, this is perfectly possible already – a.o. by using open source software,” Professor Preneel continues. “While it is true that open source software is not inherently safer than the closed-source approaches, it does allow for more thorough checks and bug reporting – so that ultimately abuse becomes much more difficult. It also allows for more transparent governance, with open audits for instance. Unfortunately, the use of open source software opposes to some of today’s commercial business models – so a spontaneous shift might not happen in the near-term future. It might therefore be the role of Europe’s policy makers to impose certain legislations upon the industry, if we really want the IoT to become a safe and secure environment.”

iMinds – a founding partner of the ‘Alliance for IoT Innovation’ (AIOTI)

iMinds – the digital research center of Flanders, Belgium – is not only engaged in researching, assessing and advancing the technical capabilities of the Internet of Things, as is done by Professor Preneel. As part of its efforts to make Flanders a leading hub of IoT innovation, iMinds is also heavily involved in international collaboration. Hence its commitment to the European Commission’s Alliance for IoT Innovation (AIOTI) – which was officially kicked off at Net Futures yesterday – and of which iMinds is one of the founding partners.

“The AIOTI has formulated some firm ambitions in order to speed up the uptake of the IoT. It plans to contribute to large-scale IoT pilots, to support the creation of IoT standards, to develop an IoT ecosystem including start-ups and SMEs, and so on,” says Thomas Kallstenius, Director research and innovation strategy at iMinds and the iMinds representative at the AIOTI. “Already today, many Flemish start-ups are active in the IoT domain. Making our region a leading one in the development and uptake of the IoT, however, goes hand in hand with tackling the IoT’s challenges at a European level too. Therefore, we’re totally committed to working with the AIOTI to realizing the quick and concrete results Europe is pursuing in this space.”


About iMinds

iMinds – the digital research center of Flanders, Belgium – combines the strength of its 850+ researchers at five Flemish universities to conduct strategic and applied research in areas such as ICT, Media and Health. Together with its research partners (companies, governments and non-profit organizations), iMinds translates digital know-how into concrete products and services. In addition, iMinds supports researchers, young entrepreneurs and start-ups in the successful market introduction of their ideas.

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