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  • Is Your Business Ready for the Internet of Things?

    Aviva Leebow Wolmer – CEO of Pacesetter

    Ten years ago, it would have been strange to stand alone in a room and tell that someone named “Alexa” to order pizza — but today, most of us take in stride the virtual assistance that AI provides. With the Internet of Things (IOT), consumers can now take on impossible tasks with ease. Answering the front door from a beach hundreds of miles away is easy; feeding the dog during a long night at the office requires only a few quick taps on a smartphone.

    With all of the feats it makes possible, IOT tech has developed a reputation for redefining how ordinary consumers enjoy their at-home experience. However, smart home devices constitute only a small tip of the overall IOT iceberg. Advances in technology stand to revolutionize the business world as much as if not more as they have our personal lives. That said, while the commercial opportunities in IOT are well-hyped in the media, many corporate executives have so far been cautious, remaining on the sidelines of this developing field.

    Today the question remains: Is it finally time for company leaders to take part in the technological revolution and integrate the Internet of Things into business life? Or is the commercial world still too wary of IOT’s strange potential to take advantage of it?

    What is the Internet of Things, exactly?

    Understanding what IOT can do for business starts with understanding IOT itself. Most laypeople know what these devices can do in their daily lives; however, providing a technical definition is often an entirely different challenge.

    Analysts describe the Internet of Things as “the interconnection of machines and devices through the internet, enabling the creation of data that yields analytical insights and supports new operations.” IOT solutions use these connections to cross-utilize wireless communications, networks, the cloud, and data storage. In doing so, they offer considerable opportunities for handling and analyzing massive amounts of data across geographically disparate locations. 

    What can it do for business?

    The primary benefit IOT provides business lies in its capacity for boosting day-to-day efficiency. These solutions use data collected from social networks, traditional media, and internal and external networks to provide actionable intelligence that empowers machines and people to optimize their behaviors. Well-integrated IOT technologies can offer company leadership valuable feedback into how a company might improve their product functionality and better their user experience, as well as streamline production processes and supply chain management.

    Because these solutions can process more real-time data in a set period than a human could ever hope to, they also play a crucial part in developing financial decisions by providing real-time insights into the state of the business as a whole. The actionable intelligence sourced from IOT solutions complements that from a company’s accounting systems and enterprise resource planning (ERP) and, when taken together, can provide executives with a bird’s-eye view of the venture’s state and provide insights into potentially lucrative financial strategies.

    The benefits that IOT solutions provide are invaluable — however, some researchers have managed to put a number on the potential financial gain. According to a 2015 McKinsey study, IOT stands to save global businesses up to $11 trillion annually by 2025. Other experts in the field project that the technology will boost corporate profits by as much as 21 percent by 2022.

    Statistics like these command interest; a survey found that 45 percent of executives said that IOT-enabled manufacturing was a high or very high priority for their ventures. Interestingly, only 21 percent of those involved in the study worked directly in the manufacturing sector — a detail which implies that the interest for IOT goes far beyond its surface capabilities. 

    Why is IOT so underutilized?

    Unfortunately, interest doesn’t always equate to usage. Many executives have opted to observe the IOT field as it develops rather than actively integrate the potentially valuable technology into the day-to-day workings of their business. According to a study conducted by Capgemini, fewer than “four out of 10 organizations are deploying IOT in operations at full scale.” Moreover, those that do implement IOT technology center in a few choice industries; leaders include industrial manufacturing (62 percent), retail (46 percent), and telecommunications (38 percent).

    Their hesitancy is understandable, even if it does hold ventures back from potential gain. According to a study put forth by Hitachi, 32 percent of surveyed companies were unable to present a compelling return on investment for integrating IOT, another 32 percent struggled to keep potential solutions secure, 31 percent saw problems with cross-departmental cooperation, and 30 percent were unable to process the influx of data effectively.

    For all of its promise, the Internet of Things doesn’t readily or immediately lend itself to daily use. Integration demands strategy, troubleshooting, and countless hours of work; executives will undoubtedly face growing pains. The sheer amount of work and consideration that goes into applying IOT solutions stands as a strong deterrent to those who might otherwise leap on the chance to take advantage of the technology’s potential.

    Does this mean businesses shouldn’t use IOT?

    Every step towards progress demands some heavy lifting. Businesses should not steer clear of IOT solutions because they are imperfect or because they require company leaders to overcome logistical hurdles; the potential payoff is far too high. Moreover, IOT solutions will likely become a norm in business, making integration less of a tech-forward decision and more of a necessity for keeping up with the competition. Integrating IOT technology can and should be a priority; however, companies will need to have advanced analytics and development platforms in place to handle the influx of IOT data, as well as cyber security solutions that address any vulnerabilities that IOT technology creates in a company’s day-to-day systems.

    As the CEO of a tech-forward steel manufacturer, I have seen the value that IOT solutions can provide to modern businesses firsthand. At Pacesetter, we’ve already taken basic steps to integrate IOT into our operations. To date, we have integrated sensors in our production lines that connect to our networks and create live dashboards for our operators. This update allowed us to optimize our reaction time and boost our understanding of our day-to-day efficiency. By analyzing data trends, we were able to determine what proactive steps we could take to improve our processes.

    Pacesetter is in the midst of exploring more ways to integrate technology and further optimize our operations — and it certainly isn’t alone in doing so. Staying on the cutting edge of technology has become inarguably vital to remaining competitive in nearly every industry. One point is for certain for all: the advances we see today are only a hint of what could benefit businesses in the future.



  • Will You Be a Digital Winner or a Digital Loser?

    The Internet is a transformative force in business, enabling amazing new business models and dramatically more efficient means to deliver services and manage a business. It also brings about a level of speed and change unlike anything we’ve previously encountered. It creates new winners and losers. Some of those losers are once-proud businesses succumbing to their newer, more nimble competition.

    The next wave of the internet is the Internet of Things (IoT), or the connection of tangible products and assets to the internet. IoT will be no different from other markets disrupted by the internet, except that the change will be across a far broader set of companies. After all, the Internet of Things involves the digitization of physical assets, and that includes pretty much every company. And just like other markets, some of the largest market participants will assume that they have plenty of time to respond, or that they are too big and too entrenched for the change to significantly impact their businesses. But they will be wrong.

    But how can you tell if you are going to be a digital winner? What are some of the signs that you are falling behind and possibly falling into the loser category?

    Characteristics of Digital Winners:

    • Speed, speed, speed: They’re fast to learn, fast to change, fast to implement and able to change the features of their product to meet customer demands in days and weeks. Winners launch new products at an accelerated monthly schedule.
    • Think like data companies: Decisions on product features are based on data, such as customer engagement. Winners can quickly modify products based on knowledge of usage, failure rates.
    • Differentiate via software: Hardware is slow to change; software is rapid when architected correctly. Winning companies leverage “Software-Defined Products” and assets to drive faster change in business.
    • Higher asset-utilization rates: Winners know where assets are, how to service them more efficiently, have much better control of uptime and therefore higher revenue.
    • Manage products and assets remotely: Digital twins mean companies no longer need to send unnecessary truck rolls to monitor and maintain their products and assets, with huge resulting savings to support their products and to run their business.
    • Know where their products are and how they are being used: Winners have an understanding of engagement with products and customers.

    Characteristics of Digital Losers:

    • Slow product introductions: They aren’t able to do firmware updates to fix bugs in the field and enhance capabilities, especially relative to their new, nimble competitors.
    • Slow to respond to market changes: These companies note the changes slower, and respond slower. Every month, they are losing the data battle to understand the market.
    • Features = what’s in the hardware: They don’t take advantage of software as a differentiator, relying on their old hardware advantages.
    • Lots of decisions based on a hunch and conventional wisdom, not data: Product feature decisions are based on older approaches rather than data. They barely leverage data created by their products and assets.  They’re essentially flying blind compared to their newer competition.
    • Lower asset utilization: They don’t know where their assets are and how they’re being used. And they have less ability to know how and when they’re failing. They respond with too many truck rolls or not enough to maintain similar uptime and customer satisfaction.

    Don’t Get Stuck on the Wrong Side of IoT Digital Transformation

    The first step is to figure out how to embrace these changes and how to roll them into your business. It may seem scary from your vantage point, but it doesn’t have to be a massive shift. After all, digital winners understand the concept of agile development and making small, incremental changes.

    You can do the same with the right strategy, the right tools and the right partners to help guide you through the process.


    Written by David Friedman, Executive Chairman and Chief Strategist at Ayla Networks in Santa Clara, Calif.

  • Trusted Platform Modules: 8 Surprises for IoT Security

    Trusted Platform Modules are poorly understood by many, well understood by few.

    Built into billions of devices, a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) is usually a specialized chip on an endpoint’s motherboard that stores cryptographic keys on behalf of its host system for authentication and protection of the endpoint. Each TPM chip contains one or more unique key pairs, certified by the vendor, called endorsement keys (EKs), for validating the TPM’s authenticity. A TPM can also store platform “measurements” that identify software and firmware running on the platform. To stop the TPM from protecting the system, a hacker would have to interfere with it physically. In addition to their popularity on the PC and network side, TPMs will be architected into billions of Internet of Things devices.

    Surprise 1: TPMs are passive, not active devices. They do not control anything on the host system they are embedded on.

    A widespread misconception is that a trusted platform module somehow controls the system it’s a part of, but a TPM is 100 percent passive with respect to the rest of the system.

    The trusted platform module is a self-contained component that has its own storage and processing capabilities, which it uses for protected operations on internal resources such as keys and measurements. These resources, however, are data that are given to the TPM, or that it is asked to generate.

    Typically, boot code uses the TPM to store measurements of software running on the system, and applications use the TPM to protect the application’s keys and report measurements. These activities are all externally driven, not initiated by the TPM.

    Surprise 2: A TPM is only useful when other things in the device take advantage of it.

    The TPM is part of a broader security ecosystem that includes everything from the BIOS to motherboards to account passwords. To obtain value from the TPM, system designers must create systems that rely on the TPM’s internal resources. In traditional TPM implementations, software is “measured” before it is run in order to identify rogue software. The measurements are stored in the TPM, giving it second-hand awareness of “bad” software. The TPM will protect keys it holds, refusing access to rogue software that does not meet the expected measurements. For example, for solutions like Microsoft Bitlocker, an attacker booting to the wrong OS could not decrypt data on the hard drive. Similarly, a TPM might not allow a key to be used to authenticate a device to a bank, preventing an attacker from unauthorized account access.

    With proper integration, a TPM can support the security of billions of future IoT devices that would otherwise be difficult to protect. By creating system dependencies on a TPM for devices like automotive electronic control units (ECU), system designers can make it much more difficult to swap out a system component without detection.

    Surprise 3: A TPM doesn’t help much — if at all — with the heralded secure boot.

    Secure boot is a hot topic. Upon startup, a device should run only the authorized code, not rogue software planted by a malicious actor. However, TPMs don’t provide secure boot. This occurs before the TPM comes into play. When a system powers on, early boot code (such as a UEFI BIOS) must decide which software will run next and which measurements are sent to the TPM. After the secure boot decisions are made, then the TPM can be used. The currently-running software can use the TPM to authenticate or decrypt the next piece of software before it loads, but this does not protect a system if an attacker can get at the early boot code.

    The TPM can support a well-designed boot process (including “measured boot” or “trusted boot,” which we will discuss later), but the TPM has no impact on a secure boot.

    Surprise 4: TPM has not been particularly successful considering how long it’s been available.

    TPM has withstood significant scrutiny and is well established in the security community. Given TPM’s favorable reputation, its longevity (more than 20 years and counting) and the fact that TPMs have shipped in volume in PCs since 2005, it’s surprising how few people really know how to work with them. As a result — especially in the IoT realm — TPMs are not being tapped to their full potential. TPMs became a ubiquitous checkoff item on RFPs for PC-related projects and appear in billions of devices today, but most devices use TPMs minimally, or not at all.

    The good news: TPM 2.0 is more flexible than the original TPM specification, allowing the newest TPMs to be applied to many embedded applications, including industrial sensors and smart home devices. Example: There is a TPM 2.0 profile for using TPM on limited-functionality ECUs for automotive applications. Now, designers and developers can more easily select granular TPM functions, whether for vehicles or a valve controller at a water utility.

    Surprise 5: Leveraging TPMs is exceedingly difficult. They were not designed to be user-friendly… and they’re not.

    It took the top companies in the PC industry — Compaq, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft and others — years to build the ecosystem needed to make implementation of TPMs for PCs feasible. These companies carved out the TPM space, driving updates to hardware, firmware and software and defining new protocols. The expectation (or at least hope) was that with this infrastructure, TPM would become an effective enabler, acting like an interstate highway for security. That is, they would provide a smooth, straight, easy way to get to the destination. Unfortunately, TPM turned out to be so complicated that even with this rich ecosystem, almost nobody built solutions to leverage it.

    Surprise 6: TPMs aren’t cheap.

    Keep in mind, TPMs are hardware. Then, remember they’re not just hardware. Implementing a TPM solution also entails software, the device’s physical design, re-architecture of the system and modifications to integrate with the broader infrastructure. Adding a TPM could increase the cost of a device by fifty cents or more. For many embedded applications, that added cost is a dealbreaker. For devices already being re-architected or that have high security requirements, like those used to operate and secure industrial sites or critical infrastructure, the incremental cost is more likely to be justifiable.

    Surprise 7: If a TPM is only used as a secure repository for encryption keys, money is probably being wasted.

    Despite having a range of capabilities, TPMs are often used solely to protect symmetric or asymmetric keys, but simpler hardware or software-based designs can often do that job just as well as a TPM. If your platform already has a TPM, by all means, use it for key protection, but if you have a TPM, why not take advantage of the TPM’s more powerful features such as measurement-based access control and remote attestation?

    Surprise 8: To retrofit an existing system, a hardware TPM is a non-starter.

    Forget about it. Here’s why: the TPM must be architected into the overall system from the beginning. It’s not a last-minute add-on to plug in once a device has been produced. It’s hardware, and the platform must physically accommodate it. Moreover, the TPM must be fully integrated into the boot process and security functions of the platform.

    Firmware or software-based TPMs offer alternatives. They are typically less secure than hardware-based TPM, but they can more easily be integrated into your design.



  • Researchers unveil Internet of Things security feature

    ‘Physically unclonable function’ is 10 times more reliable than previous methods

    Rice University integrated circuit (IC) designers are at Silicon Valley’s premier chip-design conference to unveil technology that is 10 times more reliable than current methods of producing unclonable digital fingerprints for Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

    Rice’s Kaiyuan Yang and Dai Li will present their physically unclonable function (PUF) technology today at the 2019 International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC), a prestigious scientific conference known informally as the “Chip Olympics.” PUF uses a microchip’s physical imperfections to produce unique security keys that can be used to authenticate devices linked to the Internet of Things.

    Considering that some experts expect Earth to pass the threshold of 1 trillion internet-connected sensors within five years, there is growing pressure to improve the security of IoT devices.

    Yang and Li’s PUF provides a leap in reliability by generating two unique fingerprints for each PUF. This “zero-overhead” method uses the same PUF components to make both keys and does not require extra area and latency because of an innovative design feature that also allows their PUF to be about 15 times more energy efficient than previously published versions.

    “Basically each PUF unit can work in two modes,” said Yang, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. “In the first mode, it creates one fingerprint, and in the other mode it gives a second fingerprint. Each one is a unique identifier, and dual keys are much better for reliability. On the off chance the device fails in the first mode, it can use the second key. The probability that it will fail in both modes is extremely small.”

    As a means of authentication, PUF fingerprints have several of the same advantages as human fingerprints, he said.

    “First, they are unique,” Yang said. “You don’t have to worry about two people having the same fingerprint. Second, they are bonded to the individual. You cannot change your fingerprint or copy it to someone else’s finger. And finally, a fingerprint is unclonable. There’s no way to create a new person who has the same fingerprint as someone else.”

    PUF-derived encryption keys are also unique, bonded and unclonable. To understand why, it helps to understand that each transistor on a computer chip is incredibly small. More than a billion of them can be crammed onto a chip half the size of a credit card. But for all their precision, microchips are not perfect. The difference between transistors can amount to a few more atoms in one or a few less in another, but those miniscule differences are enough to produce the electronic fingerprints used to make PUF keys.

    For a 128-bit key, a PUF device would send request signals to an array of PUF cells comprising several hundred transistors, allocating a one or zero to each bit based on the responses from the PUF cells. Unlike a numeric key that’s stored in a traditional digital format, PUF keys are actively created each time they’re requested, and different keys can be used by activating a different set of transistors.

    Adopting PUF would allow chipmakers to inexpensively and securely generate secret keys for encryption as a standard feature on next-generation computer chips for IoT devices like “smart home” thermostats, security cameras and lightbulbs.

    Encrypted lightbulbs?

    If that sounds like overkill, consider that unsecured IoT devices are what three young computer savants assembled by the hundreds of thousands to mount the October 2016 distributed denial-of-service attack that crippled the internet on the East Coast for most of a day.

    “The general concept for IoT is to connect physical objects to the internet in order to integrate the physical and cyber worlds,” Yang said. “In most consumer IoT today, the concept isn’t fully realized because many of the devices are powered and almost all use existing IC feature sets that were developed for the mobile market.”

    In contrast, the devices coming out of research labs like Yang’s are designed for IoT from the ground up. Measuring just a few millimeters in size, the latest IoT prototypes can pack a processor, flash memory, wireless transmitter, antenna, one or more sensors, batteries and more into an area the size of a grain of rice.

    PUF is not a new idea for IoT security, but Yang and Li’s version of PUF is unique in terms of reliability, energy efficiency and the amount of area it would take to implement on a chip. For starters, Yang said the performance gains were measured in tests at military-grade temperatures ranging from 125 degrees Celsius to minus 55 degrees Celsius and when supply voltage dropped by up to 50 percent.

    “If even one transistor behaves abnormally under varying environmental conditions, the device will produce the wrong key, and it will look like an inauthentic device,” Yang said. “For that reason, reliability, or stability, is the most important measure for PUF.”

    Energy efficiency also is important for IoT, where devices can be expected to run for a decade on a single battery charge. In Yang and Li’s PUF, keys are created using a static voltage rather than by actively powering up the transistor. It’s counterintuitive that the static approach would be more energy efficient because it’s the equivalent of leaving the lights on 24/7 rather than flicking the switch to get a quick glance of the room.

    “Normally, people have sleep mode activated, and when they want to create a key, they activate the transistor, switch it once and then put it to sleep again,” Yang said. “In our design, the PUF module is always on, but it takes very little power, even less than a conventional system in sleep mode.”

    On-chip area — the amount of space and expense manufacturers would have to allocate to put the PUF device on a production chip — is the third metric where they outperform previously reported work. Their design occupied 2.37 square micrometers to generate one bit on prototypes produced using 65-nanometer complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) technology.

    The research was funded by Rice University.