Skip to content

Internet of Things: Safety, Security and Privacy. Interview with Vint G. Cerf

by Roberto V. Zicari on June 11, 2017

” I like the idea behind programmable, communicating devices and I believe there is great potential for useful applications. At the same time, I am extremely concerned about the safety, security and privacy of such devices.” –Vint G. Cerf

I had the pleasure to interview Vinton G. Cerf. Widely known as one of the “Fathers of the Internet,” Cerf is the co-designer of the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the Internet. Main topic of the interview is the Internet of Things (IoT) and its challenges, especially the safety, security and privacy of IoT devices.
Vint is currently Chief Internet Evangelist for Google.

Q1. Do you like the Internet of Things (IoT)?

Vint Cerf: This question is far too general to answer. I like the idea behind programmable, communicating devices and I believe there is great potential for useful applications. At the same time, I am extremely concerned about the safety, security and privacy of such devices. Penetration and re-purposing of these devices can lead to denial of service attacks (botnets), invasion of privacy, harmful dysfunction, serious security breaches and many other hazards. Consequently the makers and users of such devices have a great deal to be concerned about.

Q2. Who is going to benefit most from the IoT?

Vint Cerf: The makers of the devices will benefit if they become broadly popular and perhaps even mandated to become part of local ecosystem. Think “smart cities” for example. The users of the devices may benefit from their functionality, from the information they provide that can be analyzed and used for decision-making purposes, for example. But see Q1 for concerns.

Q3. One of the most important requirement for collections of IoT devices is that they guarantee physical safety and personal security. What are the challenges from a safety and privacy perspective that the pervasive introduction of sensors and devices pose? (e.g. at home, in cars, hospitals, wearables and ingestible, etc.)

Vint Cerf: Access control and strong authentication of parties authorized to access device information or control planes will be a primary requirement. The devices must be configurable to resist unauthorized access and use. Putting physical limits on the behavior of programmable devices may be needed or at least advisable (e.g., cannot force the device to operate outside of physically limited parameters).

Q5. Consumers want privacy. With IoT physical objects in our everyday lives will increasingly detect and share observations about us. How is it possible to reconcile these two aspects?

Vint Cerf: This is going to be a tough challenge. Videocams that help manage traffic flow may also be used to monitor individuals or vehicles without their permission or knowledge, for example (cf: UK these days). In residential applications, one might want (insist on) the ability to disable the devices manually, for example. One would also want assurances that such disabling cannot be defeated remotely through the software.

Q6. Let`s talk about more about security. It is reported that badly configured “smart devices” might provide a backdoor for hackers. What is your take on this?

Vint Cerf: It depends on how the devices are connected to the rest of the world. A particularly bad scenario would have a hacker taking over the operating system of 100,000 refrigerators. The refrigerator programming could be preserved but the hacker could add any of a variety of other functionality including DDOS capacity, virus/worm/Trojan horse propagation and so on.
One might want the ability to monitor and log the sources and sinks of traffic to/from such devices to expose hacked devices under remote control, for example. This is all a very real concern.

Q7. What measures can be taken to ensure a more “secure” IoT?

Vint Cerf: Hardware to inhibit some kinds of hacking (e.g. through buffer overflows) can help. Digital signatures on bootstrap programs checked by hardware to inhibit boot-time attacks. Validation of software updates as to integrity and origin. Whitelisting of IP addresses and identifiers of end points that are allowed direct interaction with the device.

Q8. Is there a danger that IoT evolves into a possible enabling platform for cyber-criminals and/or for cyber war offenders?

Vint Cerf: There is no question this is already a problem. The DYN Corporation DDOS attack was launched by a botnet of webcams that were readily compromised because they had no access controls or well-known usernames and passwords. This is the reason that companies must feel great responsibility and be provided with strong incentives to limit the potential for abuse of their products.

Q9. What are your personal recommendations for a research agenda and policy agenda based on advances in the Internet of Things?

Vint Cerf: Better hardware reinforcement of access control and use of the IOT computational assets. Better quality software development environments to expose vulnerabilities before they are released into the wild. Better software update regimes that reduce barriers to and facilitate regular bug fixing.

Q10. The IoT is still very much a work in progress. How do you see the IoT evolving in the near future?

Vint Cerf: Chaotic “standardization” with many incompatible products on the market. Many abuses by hackers. Many stories of bugs being exploited or serious damaging consequences of malfunctions. Many cases of “one device, one app” that will become unwieldy over time. Dramatic and positive cases of medical monitoring that prevents serious medical harms or signals imminent dangers. Many experiments with smart cities and widespread sensor systems.
Many applications of machine learning and artificial intelligence associated with IOT devices and the data they generate. Slow progress on common standards.

Vinton G. Cerf co-designed the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the Internet and is Chief Internet Evangelist for Google. He is a member of the National Science Board and National Academy of Engineering and Foreign Member of the British Royal Society and Swedish Royal Academy of Engineering, and Fellow of ACM, IEEE, AAAS, and BCS.
Cerf received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, US National Medal of Technology, Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, Prince of Asturias Award, Japan Prize, ACM Turing Award, Legion d’Honneur and 29 honorary degrees.


European Commission, Internet of Things Privacy & Security Workshop’s Report,10/04/2017

Securing the Internet of Things. US Homeland Security, November 16, 2016

Related Posts

Social and Ethical Behavior in the Internet of Things By Francine Berman, Vinton G. Cerf. Communications of the ACM, Vol. 60 No. 2, Pages 6-7, February 2017

Security in the Internet of Things, McKinsey & Company,May 2017

Interview to Vinton G. Cerf. ODBMS Industry Watch, July 27, 2009

Five Challenges to IoT Analytics Success. By Dr. Srinath Perera., September 23, 2016

Follow us on Twitter: @odbsmorg


From → Uncategorized

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Note: HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS