Smart Homes & IoT: What About Bob?

Given that the Internet of Things has become the biggest growth driver for semiconductors, the electronics industry’s love affair with IoT won’t be breaking up anytime soon. Except maybe with the whole idea of smart homes.

Some chip vendors are finally acknowledging – publicly – what we’ve suspected all along:

IoT is great for businesses angling to benefit from big data collection. But, really, what’s in it for us, the lowly consumers?

Denis Noel

Denis Noel

Denis Noel, lead product manager of IoT Security at NXP Semiconductors, came to the Embedded Technology 2016 conference in Yokohama this week. In his speech entitled “The IoT tipping point – are we there yet?,” Noel broached the touchy topic of “smart home delays.”

I’ve been through the hype cycle for connected thermostats, smart lighting and connected door bells. I go back to the days when Microsoft tried to introduce a UI software named  “Bob.” So it was refreshing to hear the NXP executive pose a more than rhetorical question: “What about the benefits for consumers?”

Mind you, Noel is NXP’s security expert. That’s what he is selling here.

Still, he raises a legitimate issue about smart homes. Beyond giving consumers the ability to turn lights on and off via smartphones, what else is there? “A lot of players [in the IoT space] overlooked the consumer experience,” Noel noted.

15 connected devices on 7 apps
He talked about a colleague — let’s call him Bob — who spent his own money to install 15 devices for his so-called smart home. These gadgets ranged from a smart thermostat to smart lights, intelligent door locks and high-IQ security cameras.

Each one ran on a different app. So Bob ended up juggling, on his smartphone, “seven different apps,” from Apple’s Homekit to Samsung’s SmartThings to control 15 connected IoT devices.

The end result? You guessed it. One frustrated spouse married to a geek husband who outsmarted himself.

Each connected device must go through a commissioning process in the home network. Bob was surprised to find out that each smart lightbulb he installed lit up in the sequence in which he had screwed it in.

[Insert your own lightbulb joke here.]

Finding out your so-called smart home is not so smart after all would be a huge letdown for most consumers, especially after spending some 40 hours in installation (in the case of Bob).

Hackers getting aggressive
It turns out concerns expressed by 47 percent of consumers who cited “privacy risk/security concerns” as a barrier to IoT adoption in the Accenture report released earlier this year reflect verifiable problems.

Look no further than a series of attacks on the Internet’s infrastructure last month, causing shutdowns in major services such as Twitter, Spotify and PayPal for many users around the world.

IoT security is no longer just a nightmare. It’s out there.

The attacks targeted Dyn, a company that helps people connect to websites, with a huge amount of traffic in an attempt to knock the service offline, the firm explained last month. The incident exposed the critical vulnerability of IoT. Some of the traffic that attacked Dyn came from ordinary compromised IoT devices like webcams and home gateways connected to the Internet.

Noel said, “Two years ago, people [developing IoT devices] didn’t think about security.”

Hackers are becoming more aggressive. We now know that an army of vulnerable gadgets took down the Web. More important, hackers don’t need to be highly skilled to replicate attacks. They can mimic and piggyback on other hackers’ work, NXP explained.

To read the rest of this article, visit EBN sister site EE Times.

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