Internet of Things entrepreneurs are developing products to help keep households running smoothly. But like anyone else you invite into your home, it’s important that IoT devices – appliances, fitness monitors, home security systems, etc. – behave like good houseguests. Out-of-date software can pose a particular problem. One IoT device without software updates can present its own security risks, of course, but it also can introduce vulnerabilities elsewhere on the home network.
Earlier this year, the FTC announced the IoT Home Inspector Challenge, a contest that asked members of the public to develop innovative tools to help consumers protect the security of IoT devices in their homes, including a way to address the problem of out-of-date software.
With the help of an expert panel of five judges, the FTC awarded the $25,000 top prize to New Hampshire software developer Steve Castle for his proposal for an app he calls IoT Watchdog. The app would allow users to: 1) scan their home Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices to identify and inventory connected devices; 2) flag those with out-of-date software and other common vulnerabilities; and 3) provide instructions on how to update the device’s software and fix the vulnerabilities.
Honorable mention – and a $3,000 prize – went to a Silicon Valley-based team led by BJ Black and Michael Birmingham. Their proposal is for a tool called Persistent Internal Network Containment (PINC). PINC would use virtual networks to isolate each IoT device on a home network so consumers can more easily monitor and manage them.
One interesting note for entrepreneurs is that the two prize winners took different approaches to the challenge of reducing the risk to consumers. The IoT Watchdog submission proposed an app to manage and simplify the software updating process for people who have multiple devices in the home. The team that proposed PINC suggested a tool that would limit the damage if there’s a device with a security risk on the home network. Prizes aside, the purpose of the IoT Home Inspector Challenge was to encourage innovation in the drive toward a more secure Internet of Things. When entrepreneurs compete to offer safer options, the real winners are consumers.
If your company is developing IoT products, be sure to read Careful Connection: Building Security in the Internet of Things.