I found myself reading an interesting article today from Wired.com. It was an article on the “connected home” of tomorrow. As we see more and more of our lives pushed towards automation, it just seems natural that automation would extend into a smarter home. In fact, I have a digital meter outside my home that not only provides my electricity provider the convenience of reading my meter remotely, it also allows me to view my energy consumption from a day to day basis…even down to a hour by hour basis. It’s really cool stuff. Every week I receive an email that details my electricity use each day, and even gives me the high and low temperatures in my city on those days. Even more impressive, I can compare the usage over time (last week, last month etc.). Still further, I have a Wi-Fi connected thermostat that allows me to setup, monitor and change my thermostat without ever having to get off the couch or even be at home altogether. Life is grand.
As more and more start-ups begin designing more complex advancements into our homes to automate things like our lights, TVs, dishwashers etc. the more we put ourselves at risk to cyber attacks. There is an inherent risk with opening your home to outside connections, but those risks exponentially increase with obsolete systems or buggy works done by low budget automation houses. This is where standards can help and where on line in particular from the article stuck out to me: “The best way to ward off…problems before they metastasize is to embrace openness.”
I will not argue that open standards are inherently more secure than a proprietary solution, but in general there are many reasons why it actually can be. The difference is in world-wide usage of a standard. Proprietary solutions tend to be developed and maintained by a smaller group of highly trained unique individuals. Open standards by contrast are spread widely, and are adopted and implemented by many. The benefit being that buggy back-door findings and strange anomalies get detected sooner, and can be fixed purely based on the number of individuals interacting with it. It’s the same principle that makes “group think” so powerful.
Often, proprietary systems run by a core group of individuals lack the outside view of others. Ever heard the saying “Can’t see the forest for the trees?”. This is the same idea. The core group gets so engrained in doing what they do, that they cannot see a flaw if it exists. I’m sure the people over at Siemens would love to have prevented the Stuxnet virus that left a big black eye against their teal coloring. I think everyone can agree on that.
By adopting open standards, individuals and companies can minimize risk and ensure longevity to their investments. Open standards are owned or run by one single manufacturer so if one goes bankrupt or can’t offer the solution you need, another is there to take its place.
Long live standards-based protocols! Long live fieldbus.
P.S. For those interested in the article that started it all, check out the article posted on wired here: http://www.wired.com/2014/08/connected-home/