Open Source IoT Platform Would Boost Security

Interoperability (or the lack of it) stands out as one of the major obstacles to the expansion of the Internet of Things. As we’ve discussed on this blog, the lack of a common platform for Internet-enabled devices to communicate on has resulted in a balkanized IoT landscape. Nest’s smart thermometer and smoke detector communicate and share information famously, but if you want to link them with some smart appliance from GE or LG, you’re out of luck.

AllJoyn is an open source peer-to-peer platform for connecting devices on The Internet of Things. (Image courtesy of The Linux Foundation.)

But that may soon be changing. On Tuesday, The Linux Foundation announced a new, cross industry consortium of major IT infrastructure makers, software vendors and electronics firms. The AllSeen Alliance is tasked with developing a common, open source platform that allows hardware and software firms to unite their creations, regardless of their brand – and provide basic security features, to boot.

The Alliance counts electronics giants like Panasonic, Qualcomm, LG and Sharp as members. Other charter members include retail giant Sears and networking equipment maker Cisco Systems.

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Members will contribute engineers and material support to develop what is described as an “open framework” based on AllJoyn, a peer-to-peer networking platform created by Qualcomm and designed to facilitate connections between a heterogeneous population of intelligent, mobile devices.

“This goes far beyond simply defining a standard and hoping people will adopt it,” wrote Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin in a blog post. “This is working code that everyone can freely use. By adopting the same code base this project will enable higher levels of compatibility needed for a world of billions of connected devices.”

AllJoyn provides what is described as a “common set of service frameworks for allowing things near you (proximal) to share information seamlessly with each other regardless of operating system, platform, device type, transport layer or brand.” The framework comprises an SDK and code base of service frameworks for basic intra-device networking features like device discovery, connection management, message routing and security.

The AllJoyn security model supports application level encryption and authentication. Authentication is managed using SASL (Simple Authentication and Security Layer) and is conducted application-to-application using the AllJoyn interface. Objects can implement both secure and non-secure interfaces depending on the requirements of the application, according to information published by the AllSeen Alliance.

Backers also argue that an open source platform will offer a big security improvement over islands of poorly vetted, proprietary code.

BrightCove's Guide To The Internet of Things
Interoperability is a major obstacle to growth of The Internet of Things.

Initially, the Alliance said that AllJoyn will provide services that allow compliant devices to identify each other and perform basic handshakes, as well as onboarding to local area device networks, user notifications, device management and audio streaming. The AllSeen Alliance will produce developer tools and operate a compliance program to ensure that Alliance standards are being properly implemented, according to an Alliance FAQ.

With the Internet of Things on a course to mushroom in the years ahead, issues like security, data privacy and interoperability have come to the fore. The Linux Foundation said that open source platforms like Linux are the best hope for heading off a confusing, expensive environment dominated by incompatible devices and frameworks.

“History has proven that open source software and collaborative development can speed complex technology challenges that when those challenges are overcome, unleash new opportunities for consumer experiences,” Zemlin wrote. “The AllSeen Alliance aims to take a page from the Linux and open source playbook to deliver the connected home and business of the future while helping to turn those analyst forecasts into real revenue for the world’s most innovative companies and new experiences for consumers and business users.”