VW Cheating Scandal Proves that Internet of Things Should Be Open-Source

Unfortunately, security specialists keep finding many vulnerabilities in products related to the Internet of Things. Is it possible to use the IoT safely?

Photo: Michiel Boelens/Flickr

Photo: Michiel Boelens/Flickr

2015 has not been an easy year for the Internet of Things. Lots of “smart” physical goods demonstrated flaws, outages at smart home services Wink and Google’s Nest made users’ gadgets temporarily useless. Even the Volkswagen cheating scandal exposed another problem with the Iot’s products. In a nutshell, it became obvious that manufacturers can use software to bypass rules.

“For the past six years, Volkswagen has been advertising a lie: “top-notch clean diesel” cars — fuel efficient, powerful and compliant with emissions standards for pollutants. It turns out the cars weren’t so clean,” says Zeynep Tufekci, sociologist and New York Times contributing opinion writer.

“It’s a pity that casinos have better scrutiny of their software than the code running our voting machines, cars, and many other vital objects, including medical devices and even our infrastructure,” Tufekci adds.

A Guardian analysis shows, Volkswagen’s rigging of emissions tests for 11 million cars means they may be responsible for nearly 1m tonnes of air pollution every year, roughly the same as the UK’s combined emissions for all power stations, vehicles, industry and agriculture. “Volkswagen didn’t make a faulty car: they programmed it to cheat intelligently,” says Marcelo Rinesi from the IEET.

Well, it turns out that the software Volkswagen installed onto its cars cheated emissions tests. The damage is done, and regulators are looking for a way to prevent such a scandal from happening again. Open source software may become a solution.

“It seems like we’ve gone through this trough where only 100 people in the world have the tools to test something like the Volkswagen emissions, to having a limitless number of people having the tool to detect this,” said Eben Upton, the creator of the Raspberry Pi computer, which is a computer beloved by makers. “But it’s not just that the tools are available, but that the tech culture has changed.”

It’s probable that more open IoT’s goods would become better products. If customers could have more control over their gadgets, the system’s fragility would disappear.

Probably, many manufacturers wouldn’t be happy to let users re-program their devices and replace the operating systems on their products, but still, openness may vary by degree.  So, an application programming interface is able to link one product and another making the Internet of Things more powerful.

To sum it up, despite high costs of VW’s cheating, it’s quite easy to imagine industries and scenarios where it’d be much worse.

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