Innovations in Security and Chipsets Boost IoT Service Potential for NSPs

Stuart Rosove, VP, advanced solutions, Irdeto

Stuart Rosove, VP, advanced solutions, Irdeto

Irdeto Protection Solution, GreenPeak SoC Ecosystem Enhancements Targeted for 2015

By Fred Dawson

October 13, 2014 – New developments in security, connectivity and software intelligence are about to considerably strengthen network service providers’ ability to launch a new generation of smart-home services in response to anticipated demand for a flood of Internet-of-Things (IoT) applications.

Looking beyond early smart-home service packages, growing numbers of NSPs are exploring new approaches where virtually any application can be implemented as a simple-to-use component of a holistically managed service that outperforms solutions offered through retail and OTT outlets. But for most NSPs, three conditions remain to be met before they can commit whole-heartedly to the new service paradigm:

  • They must be able to close vulnerabilities to security breaches that could compromise subscriber privacy and disrupt services;
  • There needs to be ubiquitous device support for a standardized mode of wireless connectivity;
  • NSPs must have assurance that household sensors and other devices under the direction of expert systems can be orchestrated to act collectively to maximize user benefits and to proactively adjust to changes in usage patterns.

The likelihood that these conditions will soon be met is reflected in initiatives underway at Irdeto, a leading provider of content security solutions for NSPs, and GreenPeak, a leading manufacturer of chipsets designed to support IoT connectivity and applications. In both cases, senior executives say new solutions that significantly improve the prospects for next-gen IoT service launches will be commercially available in the year ahead.

The timing seems right. Judging from recent research projecting the pace of consumer demand and technology development in the IoT space, NSPs have no time to waste bringing viable service models to market if they are to take a leading role in catching this wave.

For example, IoT researcher ON World predicts that revenues generated worldwide by wireless sensor network (WSN) services, devices, RF modules and other equipment and technology will reach $102 billion in 2018, nearly five times the amount spent in 2013. In another recent report, the McKinsey Group says IoT connectivity could contribute up to $6 trillion to the global economy by 2035, number cited by Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers at CES 2014.

“Advanced power management techniques, mesh networking and MEMS sensors have made WSN a reality and now the focus is on expanding the capabilities of individual devices without increasing costs through highly integrated components,” says Mareca Hatler, ON World’s research director.   Residential systems will make up over half the unit shipments in this space over the next five years, Hatler says.

Already, she adds, thousands of applications are using millions of wireless sensing devices to “create life-enhancing changes in energy usage, security and safety, health and wellness, smart lighting, building management and optimized industrial processes.” By 2018 there will be 930 annual device shipments for WSN markets, she says.

A New IoT Security System

Perhaps nothing is more vital to freeing NSPs to pursue an open-ended IoT service strategy than the ability to provide greater security than now exists against vulnerabilities that inevitably will emerge in this new environment. Irdeto, undertaking an unannounced IoT security initiative, is addressing this problem with a comprehensive approach to blocking potential hacker entry points at all levels, including the service support platform, home gateway and devices.

“We have many hundreds of customers, and everyone is looking at an IoT strategy,” says Stuart Rosove, vice president of advanced solutions at Irdeto. “It’s natural for us to work with them just like we have with providing our conditional access and other content protection mechanisms. As operators endorse our IoT security solution they can tell their gateway vendors to build it in. We’re also in discussions with SoC (system-on-chip) manufacturers and the device people.”

Without a comprehensive security blanket to protect IoT service offerings it would only be a matter of time before hacker intrusions cause major problems for anyone offering such services, notes Richard Frankland, Irdeto’s vice president of sales for the Americas. “We think having this level of security will give network service providers a great marketing advantage over those who don’t,” he says.

The vulnerabilities have been a hot topic of late in Internet security circles. For example, at this summer’s Black Hat security event in Las Vegas, one presentation described how easy it was to hack into household information through Google’s Nest energy management system. In Holland good-guy hackers recently captured information and views accumulated by a wearer of Google Glass. However, most of these reports describe tests where the security pros gained direct physical access to the device rather than going through a network connection.

But in a network environment where a cloud-based system is providing support for a smart-home service over a managed network the situation could be quite different. “CE manufacturers are not treating security with other than light regard,” Frankland says. “People really haven’t connected the dots yet on the security risks.”

“Imagine the number of devices that consumers could connect to such a service,” Rosove says. “We’re working to create a holistic view of the home with a security solution centered on the home gateway and extending to all the end points that matter.”

The first point of focus, however, must be protection of the service platform itself, he adds, noting that one way to do that is to set up a process whereby all apps are fully verified as secure before they can be brought onto the platform. This includes preventing unauthorized replacements of apps. “If somebody pulls out an app and tries to put in an infected replacement, it won’t run on the platform,” he says.

On the device side, one way to simplify matters in open environments fostered by groups like the AllSeen Alliance and Open Interconnectivity Consortium would be to include protection mechanisms as compliance requirements for devices entering those ecosystems, Rosove notes. “We might eventually address this issue by providing SDKs that allow developers to put our technology into their processes,” he says.

Meanwhile, Irdeto’s focus is on providing the mechanisms service providers need to create zones of trust in every household to ensure that any gateway, appliance, sensor or other device brought into the IoT service domain does not present a point of entry for hackers. By installing agents on gateways far enough down in the software stack to monitor what’s going on across all the connected devices, the system can control what devices are connected to the network in accord with security clearance procedures and then identify any activities on those devices that don’t comport with allowed processes and user behavior.

“For example, we can monitor who’s accessing system memory and whether they have the right to that access,” Rostove says. “You can set policies that deny access on any given device, and you can dynamically change those policies.”

Irdeto is working with operators to hash out the details of how the security system will be implemented. “We don’t have to be everywhere, but we need to be in the right strategic locations,” Rosove says.

“We haven’t productized this yet, but we’re close,” he adds. “We’ve been in a proof-of-concept trial with a large operator that has been going really well. We’re far enough along to where we expect we’ll be able to commercialize the solution in the coming year. We’ll be making a decision shortly on the timing.”

More Intelligent IoT Ecosystems

Beyond progress on the security issues, NSPs can also take heart at the gains in device connectivity and expert systems control evidenced in ecosystem developments led by GreenPeak, which is seeding the world with ZigBee-enabled remote controls and IoT devices. ZigBee, alone or in combination with other wireless capabilities such as Wi-Fi, IEEE 802.15.4 and Bluetooth, is now incorporated into 80 percent of WSN unit shipments, according to ON World.

GreenPeak has been shipping about one million ZigBee communications chips each month over the past year or so, including a large share of the ZigBee chips that now have become essential components of next-generation home media gateways, set-tops and remote controls for MVPDs, says GreenPeak CEO and co-founder Cees Links. “Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Rogers, EchoStar and DirecTV have all have committed to ZigBee on set-top boxes,” Links says.

As Links notes, this demand, fueled in part by CableLabs’ adoption of  the ZigBee-based RF4CE MSO remote control specifications in 2012, not only reflects the fact that RF technology outperforms traditional infrared RCs in set-top management; thanks to the ZigBee Alliance’s recently ratified ZRC 2.0 standard, these chipsets can now be used to control IoT apps as well. “Service providers can supply RCs that subscribers can use to control all the home’s connected devices used with home security, energy management, turning on the lights, opening and closing curtains and windows, etc.,” he says.

GreenPeak’s new ZRC 2.0-compliant GP565 Smart Home chips support voice control, motion monitoring and other advanced features, he notes. “We use a special compression codec to enhance throughput for voice along with data transmission over the RF connection,” he says.

Beyond RCs, GreenPeak is making significant headway tailoring its ZigBee chips for use in building the backbone for highly intelligent residential sensor networks. “Today there are 600 million households connected to the Internet and ten devices per household, which equals six billion devices,” Links says. “We think there will be 600 billion ZigBee devices getting to market within the next ten years.”

As part of this effort, GreenPeak is partnering with other parties to ensure devices can interact with applications platforms that use expert systems to coordinate functions across multiple points of connectivity in the home. In its first announced foray in this direction, GreenPeak has partnered with Sensara, a Dutch company offering a Senior Lifestyle System as the first of a planned series of Family Lifestyle Solutions, to create a base of sensors that connect with Sensara’s cloud-based self-learning system, which uses advanced behavior pattern recognition and social media capabilities to allow families and other informal care givers to keep an eye on elderly family members or friends who live independently.

As described by Sensara, the system learns the normal day-to-day activities and behavior of people in their home so that when irregular behavior or exceptional situations are identified, family or friends can be notified via the app running on connected devices as well as online messaging and social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, WeChat and QQ.

With the its algorithms, Sensara says up to six separate life trends can be monitored, based on the privacy settings that users define. The user remains fully in charge of what activities the system monitors and what it does not.

Through intelligent use of sensors, a service based on the Sensara platform eliminates the need for people to wear things or for the use of intrusive cameras, Links notes. “The system understands the person the family is looking after opens the fridge every day before 9 a.m.,” he says, by way of example. “If that doesn’t happen until after 9 one day, the family gets a message.”

“We look on the Senior Lifestyle System as a prototype of a complete next-generation IoT service platform,” Links says, noting pilot trials are now underway in Germany and China, in the latter case involving connectivity to 50,000 households. “The goal is to expand these capabilities into intelligent lifestyle applications of all types with an integrated approach that links everything together at the device and platform levels.”

In this scenario, NSPs will be able to tailor the service package and its costs to each household’s needs. “Different people have different needs, but it’s hard to sell specific apps as a service,” Links says. “Now you can sell a service that employs the same level of intelligent management no matter what the specific apps and devices might be.”

Connected, sensorized devices and appliances will be able to deliver better performance attuned to events across all points of connection in conjunction with an understanding of usage patterns and changing circumstances, he explains. For example, he notes, the intelligent system will be able to radically reduce the current high error rate in home security alerts by filtering out events responsible for generating false signals. “One motion sensor connected to the cloud will know whether the detected motion means there’s an intruder or that the lights should be turned on because a resident has come home,” he says.

Or, as another example in the case of the senior lifestyle app, the system can learn which pills an elderly person takes as prescriptions change, as well as when those pills are taken, without requiring someone to program such changes into the monitoring system. “The real strength of expert systems used in the IoT environment is you don’t have to program them to make adjustments in the apps,” Links says. “The system will factor in the outside temperature to determine what the interior temperature should be when people are at home.”

Given its progress so far in enabling devices equipped with its chipsets to work in such expert system-managed environments, GreenPeak anticipates it will begin offering products supporting multi-app iterations of such capabilities in the near future. “We expect to start rollouts early next year or even by Christmas,” Links says.