maanantai 14. elokuuta 2017

Science Fiction and Networking


With the WorldCon 75 finished yesterday, it seems appropriate to write a post about Science Fiction. I've been thinking about the role of Science Fiction as coming up with ideas, scenarios and effects of networking technology. What are your favourite SF predictions about it?

There's obviously a ton of Science Fiction that has touched on this topic, sometimes with chillingly predictive visions. George Orwell's 1984, for instance, looked at how a totalitarian society might use pervasive surveillance. In the novel, two-way "telescreens" and microphones made surveillance possible. While today's world is fortunately not the dystopian totalitarity depicted in the novel, the predictions about surveillance capabilities were far ahead of their time, and proved quite accurate. If anything, Orwell may have been too optimistic, given how much of our lives and even the operation of our possessions relies on information technology, and the eagerness of some parties to tap onto those information flows. More work for us engineers to keep securing our communications better, I guess! See RFC 1984 for why cryptography is important for the Internet. What an apt specification number!

Then there was Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. While this book isn't about technology but rather about books, pressures to prevent access to information are prevalent in the Internet today in some places. Interestingly, the HTTP error code to signify access blocked by authorities is 451, as specified in RFC 7725.

There are also plenty of more specific examples, like Arthur C. Clarke's prediction of communications satellites in Wireless World, the translation devices in Douglas Adams' Hitchker's Guide to Galaxy, Star Trek's communicators, John Brunner's Shockwave Rider which coined the term "computer worm", Neal Stephenson's predictions about use of cryptocurrencies in his novel Cryptonomicon, and so on. Fundamentals of communication have also played a role in many books, e.g., speed of light shaped the outcomes in Liu Cixin's Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy, by limiting the usefulness of communication to far away places.

And then there's cyberpunk. When William Gibson's Neuromancer came out, I remember sinking deep into his odd world that has become more true on every passing year. True visions of the future of the Internet, virtual reality, hackers, organisations fighting in the network... I should also mention Vernor Vinge, Philip K. Dick, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, and many others. And of course, as The Matrix showed later, the inhabitants of virtual world's don't always recognise that they are in a virtual world. Not that we can definitely say we aren't in a computer simulation either.

While not strictly speaking about communications, technological singularity in the form rapidly improving artificial intelligence has been the topic or background in a lot of SF works. The perhaps best example of this is in Vernor Vinge's The Coming Technological Singularity. The opening statement of his paper is "Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended." That was written in 1993, so there six years left from his prediction. I think we should use those years wisely.

At the WorldCon I had a chance to meet Charles Stross. I've been reading his book Singularity Sky this week. This is an interesting and action packed story where among other things, IETF has taken over the UN in distant future :-) Reportedly, when Charles was asked about this, he had responded that he wouldn't be surprised if it happened, as running the planet being a thankless infrastructure maintenance task, after all.

But, everything above is well known. What else is there? Who do you think is the most interesting book or writer today? I have not had a chance to read enough in the recent years. Can you give me some pointers?

I also spent some time searching for a good anthology or listing of network-related science fiction. A bit surprisingly, I didn't find much. This must be my searching, I cannot imagine that such lists wouldn't exist. Anybody care to give pointers?

Jari Arkko

Photo: A hole in the clouds on the day of the WorldCon opening, conveniently in the form of a flying saucer. Credits: Helsingin Kaupungin viestintä. The original photo appeared in their tweet.

Acknowledgements: Christer Holmberg, Elinor Aminoff, Andrew McGregor, Robert Sparks, Charles Stross, Ted Lemon, Veikko Oittinen, Martin Thomson, Désirée Miloshevic, Miljenko Opsenica, Olli Arkko, and Lee Howard all provided insights relating to the topics in this article.

tiistai 8. elokuuta 2017

Silicon Pilgrimage



In California Janne and I made a pilgrimage to the holy sites in Silicon Valley: offices of AMD, Intel, Google, and Apple, and two museums.

The Apple building that we saw was the new space donut one. Quite a remarkable building! It was difficult to find at first because we kept getting their old address from maps, but once I saw this picture on my display, I knew I had found the right site :-)




But the really interesting visits were to the Computer History Museum and Intel Museum. Both had interesting displays. Plenty of hardware, but also things like bean bag chairs:


So, old hardware *and* old fashion:


And old memories for me at least:


Intel inside?


Finally, there was also some amount of networking history in the Computer History Museum, e.g., Vint Cerf on video talking about the Internet, and some references to the IETF:


Photos (c) 2017 by Jari Arkko

torstai 13. heinäkuuta 2017

What is in the value of security for things?


I'm in a workshop tomorrow to discuss (among other things) setting standards for minimum security requirements for Internet of Things devices. There are a lot of technical details to discuss, but I started to think about this from a broader perspective first.

Why do we need security to begin with? The traditional perspective on this relates to guaranteeing that your systems are available for your use and your data is kept confidential. However, as we have witnessed in recent times, the Internet is an interconnected system and its vulnerable parts may be used in attacks to harm other parts of the Internet. As a result, we cannot think of security merely in terms of individual systems. We also need to look at the impacts on the commons, i.e., the Internet as whole.


Economics of Networking

Metcalfe's law states that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system. Reed's law suggests that the utility of a network scales even exponentially with the number of users, on the grounds that there is an exponential number of possible subgroups of users. Beckström's law looks at the added value that transactions performed over the network generate. A variant of this law subtracts costs related to securing the system and attacks that happened despite the security.

These laws are all interesting, and provide different viewpoints to the value of a network. I'll try to take them together and apply them to the Internet of Things.


Does Metcalfe's Law Apply to IOT?

To begin with, do they apply to the Internet of Things? This may not be immediately obvious in context of closed devices deployed for the purpose of one application. But the ability to deploy these devices is still one example of network effects. The existence of general purpose networks (mobile networks, wireless LANs, the Internet) has made it economically possible to deploy most of these applications. Applications are rarely worth enough to warrant building special networks for them.

Metcalfe's law was written in the context of humans interacting with each other, expecting an ability to contact other humans when the need for that arises. The IOT world equivalent of that is not necessarily things contacting each other. But rather, the ability create applications that are not silos with their own dedicated devices. But the ability to open up data and functions for more general use is where Metcalfe's law really comes into play.

Years ago I realised this as I networked a large number of sensors in my home, and quickly realised that what was setup for one purpose often found new applications. Humidity sensors designed to monitor building health could be used to calculate when laundry is dry. That's a minor application, of course, but consider others. If vehicles on the road have access to real-time traffic information, and can interact with other vehicles on the road, this enables significant savings for the society, in terms of less congestion, or the ability of self-driving vehicles to pack themselves in "trains" to reduce energy consumption.

But, all this requires the ability to use as much open data as possible, and interoperable systems so that different systems and different manufacturer's products can work together. We're not quite there yet, though making progress. (See, for instance, the WISHI workshop at the IETF.)


Back to the Economics of IOT Security

Clearly, Beckström's Law's variant is on the right track in considering the costs of security and any remaining attacks. But here's our dilemma: just like there's no reason for every human to talk to every other human, there's even less need for all IOT-related applications and devices to connect to each other. There's great value in open data and interoperable systems, but if I add a rain sensor to my garden in Finland, it is unlikely that a warehouse tracking system in Buenos Aires needs to interact with my sensor.

However, for the attackers this is not true to the same extent. If my sensor can be subverted and used as a part of a botnet attack, then for sure the attackers would find it usable for attacking the warehouse.

In other words, I fear that the "value for attack" grows faster than utility. The latter grows more slowly, similar to (or even less than) the growth of value for human connections.

Se let me propose a couple of new laws... lets call the first one Eflactem's law:
Law I (Eflactem's Law): The cost of attacks from a group of nodes grows proportional to the number of vulnerable nodes in that group times the nodes in the entire Internet. 
In other words, the value of a compromised network to the attacker grows when either there are compromised nodes or when there's more or more valuable nodes to attack in the Internet. Therefore, for any new set of nodes to be added to the Internet, the probability of of those being used in attacks needs to be low enough to ensure that the value exceeds the cost of attacks, when the cost of attacks grows quickly.

The second new law is about the potential value of an application network:
Law II: The potential value of a network of application nodes grows proportional to the square of nodes having an ability to participate in the application. 
That is, the value of an application grows quickly, squared, but is limited by the number of nodes that have a possibility to participate in the application. This is equally true of smart object deployments as well as other applications. A closed system whose data cannot be accessed by outsider is less valuable than a system that is broadly used by other applications.

Now, putting these together we get:
Law III: The value of a network of application nodes grows proportional to the square of nodes having an ability to participate in the application, minus the cost of attacks  number of vulnerable nodes in that network times the nodes in the entire Internet.
Note that the benefits and costs are attributed to entire society here, not the individual players. Each individual may of course assess these from their own perspective, and, e.g., decide to deploy an insecure device even if it causes harm elsewhere.

Fortunately, the attack costs are limited by the number of entities that are vulnerable. The purpose of this law is to show how important it is that we do our best to eliminate all of those vulnerabilities, and act quickly when new vulnerabilities come to light.

The theoretical effects are also limited by practical effects, e.g., while a device is in theory capable of disturbing any network addressable in the Internet, it may only do so with one, and large numbers of compromised entities are required to mount a large-scale Denial-of-Service attack.


What About Those Minimal Security Requirements?

In view of the above, there seems to be two categories of requirements:

  • Requiring that new things connected to the Internet continue to maintain the Internet commons, and are not an additional burden in terms of vehicles of attack towards the rest of the Internet.

    For instance, they should not be susceptible to be used as reflectors in Denial-of-Service attacks. And they should be updatable and their lifetime integrity against newly discovered attacks should be actively tracked.
  • Requiring that the new things are safe for the purpose of the application they were made for.

    For instance, applications that monitor a person's health should not leak information outside authorised parties. Or applications that involve moving physical objects (e.g., self-driving cars) be safe from outside manipulation, and fail safely when something goes wrong.

Not So Fast, Mister!

I've used the term "requirement" above, but it is worthwhile to stop for a moment, and think about ways that systems get deployed in the Internet. There's no central authority, for very good reasons, so no one can mandate any specific technology to be used.

The Internet is about voluntary co-operation. Self-interest drives parties to connect and interoperate. That being said, best practices are worked on and documented, and in most cases followed, although often not be everyone. For instance, in the last couple of years there's been a common trend to employ transport layer security for web communications. By now, a significant part (or even most) of Internet communications are secured in this fashion. The reasons behind this include both self-interest (e.g., ability for content providers to control the end-to-end channel to their users) and user benefits (e.g., less ability for traffic capture in open Wireless LANs). Could this deployment model be replicated for the Internet of Things security?

What I've written is about trying to come to a conclusion about why security (in the widest sense) is important. There are elements here that are similar to the transport layer security deployment. There's self-interest (e.g., be in control of devices or protection from any liability claims resulting from security incidents) and good of the Internet.

Conclusions

I think this goes to show why securing the Internet of Things devices is very important. And that focusing on damage to the rest of the Internet as well as to the application itself is also important.

But what do you think?

Jari Arkko

Acknowledgements: I wanted to thank Jon Crowcroft as his recent writings inspired some of the thinking reflected in this post. The image is from Wikimedia and by McSush.

keskiviikko 5. heinäkuuta 2017

Drone Control


I have a very nice drone, but I don't have enough free time to fly it more than once a week or so. But what I have noticed is that every time I want to fly it, it demands a firmware update or no-fly zone update.

Granted, it is important to build in functions in consumer drones to prevent their accidental or malicious use in the wrong place. But, I feel like there's very little true consumer ownership of the things we buy. Ubiquitous connectivity and cloud systems enable wonderful things, but us individuals and consumers find ourselves a bit ... constrained.

Every time I do my weekly start of the drone in the woods or mountains, I'm greeted with a complaint that the drone doesn't want to fly unless I make an update. Or is extremely limited in range and altitude. And as each firmware update needs about quarter of a gig download, and perhaps as much as half an hour of processing, I'll burn both time and one battery pack on the update.

Ok, so maybe this is fine. Safety is important. But, where to draw the line? What if your car won't start because it needs to download a new no-drive zone map? And you had an emergency and really needed the car? What if software updates and no-fly zones were set on commercial grounds, e.g., you don't get to fly in an interesting place because somebody else wants to retain the right to do so?

Maybe these questions sound silly, but the concept of ownership is clearly changing as part of smart objects and new electronics. What does it mean to "own" an object? Will people want to pay for objects, if they don't get to control them? Consider a piece of equipment that the manufacturer decides you cannot resell to others. We already have that for, say, movies in cloud-based services. Remember when you were able to trade your old DVDs for other ones? No longer. And if it is just movies, maybe it is ok. But what about computers? Cars? Houses?

Fortunately, there's open source. For drones, for instance.

Photo (c) 2017 by Jari Arkko

maanantai 5. kesäkuuta 2017

Human rights and IOT


This week I'm at the EuroDIG conference, discussing policy issues related to the Internet. I will be on a panel focusing human rights and the Internet of Things (IOT).

And that's an interesting topic! At the IETF, we've had plenty of debates about the general topic of whether human rights should be a consideration when designing Internet technology. If you are interested, read the Human Rights Research Group's draft on the topic.

But back the more specific question of IOT. The panel is hosted by the Dynamic Coalition on IOT. This is a group of people who have looked at the role of ethics in IOT systems. I've been an occasional contributor in that group as well, and their document also makes good reading: it covers things like meaningful transparency and user control.

But, to be honest, I'm not the human rights or ethics expert. I know a few things about the tech though. Amidst various IOT discussions I find that it is useful to set of few things straight, so that we at least have a good basis for understanding the technology. And then we can have a more accurate discussion of the ethics or human rights.

Done right, the Internet of Things can bring great benefit and support our societies and human rights: the environment, energy efficiency, quantity and quality of food production, safety and many other things stand to benefit. But it takes effort to ensure that we can enjoy these benefits, and to avoid side effects. And it takes education for all of us to understand how IT is shaping our lives, and how it can be managed and used.

I wanted to highlight four issues:

1. It is not about the gadgets, dammit!
Many IOT discussions focus on the efficiency, security issues or other characteristics of the devices. While that's important, that is far from the full picture. We'd be far better off to consider cloud servers as an even more important component in most systems; that's where the most of the interesting functionality usually resides. And that's what you also want to be under the user's control. 
Similarly, we are often focused on the gadgets and servers, but from my perspective the true value of IOT systems in the data produced or consumed by them. Having user control of the data is very important. How that data is used and by whom is important. It needs to be put to good use by or with the consent of those whose data is being used. It should not be used to violate privacy or in a discriminatory manner.
Also, the architecture of IOT systems as a whole matters a lot. The IRTF Thing-to-Thing Research Group, for instance, is looking at various designs where the devices are talking to each other, rather than (for instance) connecting through a centralised cloud entity. A classic example of where this is the right way to design the system are light control systems; you don't want your ability to turn on lights be dependent on your Internet connection :-) 
 2. Collateral damage
When we talk about security of the IOT systems, we need to understand that security is not merely about protecting the devices or even the data. 
The attacks that caused some common Internet services to fail last year were launched from compromised IOT devices, but the target of the attack was not the devices themselves. It was the other parties, this time the Internet naming infrastructure. (For a discussion of this incident, see the video from IETF-97 technical plenary.) 
The friendly neighbour principle: You cannot design Internet-connected systems without having to consider the effect of your systems to others in the Internet. 
 3. Interoperability
Interoperability is a key issue in creating a large market of useful applications and enabling user control. With more and more Internet-based smart devices, I believe we are on a good path with regards to interoperable devices being able to use the same networks and run over Internet protocols. However, this not enough. We also need applications that are interoperable. Otherwise it will not be possible to plug light switches from one manufacturer to light bulbs from another. 
We also need interoperability for the sake of driving competition, and to ensure that the market supports these systems on a long-term basis regardless of individual manufacturer's decisions. Application level interoperability was discussed in the 2016 IAB workshop on semantic interoperability
 4. Rights of the user
The ability of the user to be in the driver's seat with regards to information concerning him or her is important. I wanted to highlight one additional issue that is important: the right to tinker
This isn't just an issue for hobbyists, it also important for our ability to update products that may be used for decades after they have been manufactured and long after support for them has ceased. I also believe the ability to build new things and modify various consumer systems is important for a healthy, innovative ecosystem.
And as for the opening picture above, that was the message waiting for me this morning on my Inbox. My IOT devices, such as the weight scale, telling how I'm doing. I think the machines have something to learn still from instilling confidence and positive attitude! 😀 Then again, maybe the weight scale would be more efficient, if it slapped me on the face for my failure to have a more healthy diet. Would the positive attitude or the slapping IOT be more ethical?

Jari Arkko

Screenshot (c) 2017 by Jari Arkko. I'd like to acknowledge Ari Keränen, Anna Larmo and Francisco Alcoba for interesting discussions in this problem space.

Have an idea, buy components at midnight


Have an idea, fetch parts at midnight to implement ❤️ verkkokauppa.com

Photos (c) 2017 by Jari Arkko

torstai 25. toukokuuta 2017

Access point recommendations?

With some upgrade of my Internet connection, it seems that my trusty WRT-54GL wireless network is now a bottleneck. I would love to get a recommendation for 802.11ac etc access points. I'll be operating them strictly in access point bridged mode, and I'll need several so cost is a factor. But the WRT-54GLs have been spectacularly reliable and did not get confused and need reboots like many other products. That is something that I absolutely need.