IoT Can Never Be Fixed

This title is a bit click baity, but it’s true, not for the reason you think. Keep reading to see why.

If you’ve ever been involved in keeping a software product updated, I mean from the development side of things, you know it’s not a simple task. It’s nearly impossible really. The biggest problem is that even after you’ve tested it to death and gone out of your way to ensure the update is as small as possible, things break. Something always breaks.

If you’re using a typical computer, when something breaks, you sit down in front of it, type away on the keyboard, and you fix the problem. More often than not you just roll back the update and things go back to the way they used to be.

IoT is a totally different story. If you install an update and something goes wrong, you now have a very expensive paperweight. It’s usually very difficult to fix IoT devices if something goes wrong, many of them are installed in less than ideal places and some may even be dangerous to get near the device.

This is why very few things do automatic updates. If you have automatic updates configured, things can just stop working one day. You’ll probably have no idea it’s coming, one day you wake up and your camera is bricked. Of course it’s just as likely things won’t break until it’s something super important, we all know how Murphy’s Law works out.

This doesn’t even take into account the problems of secured updates, vendors going out of business, hardware going end of life, and devices that fail to update for some reason or other.

The law of truly large numbers

Let’s assume there are 2 million of a given device out there. Let’s assume there are automatic updates enabled. If we can guess 10% won’t get updates for some reason or other. That means there will be around 200,000 vulnerable devices that miss the first round of updates. That’s one product. With IoT the law of truly large numbers kicks in. Crazy things will happen because of this.

The law of truly large numbers tells us that if you have a large enough sample set, every crazy thing that can happen, will happen. Because of this law, the IoT can never be secured.

Now, all this considered, that’s no reason to lose hope. It just means we have take this into consideration. We don’t build systems that can handle a large number of crazy events. Once we take this into account we can start to design a system that’s robust against these problems. The way we develop these systems and products will need a fundamental change. The way we do things today doesn’t work in a large number situation. It’s not a matter of maybe fixing this, it has to be fixed, and someone will fix it, the rewards will be substantial.

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