Robert Bosch GmbH (“Bosch”) is a company most know through its branded consumer products—automotive parts and accessories, dishwashers and refrigerators, power tools, garden tools, and water heaters, among many others. It’s also a company that makes commercial and industrial products such as energy and building solutions, security cameras, and large thermal plants that are quite familiar to people who work with those kinds of things.
Those “things” are what produce an annual revenue stream of €73 billion for the Gerlingen, Germany-based company. And the fact that their products function within larger, physical operating systems explain why this company is very involved in the increasingly ubiquitous Internet of Things (IoT).
“We offer all the ace cards for the connected world from a single source,” Bosch CEO Volkmar Denner told Bosch ConnectedWorld conference attendees in 2016. “The Bosch IoT Cloud is the final piece of the puzzle that completes our software expertise.” That cloud is comprised of technical infrastructure as well as platform and software offerings.
Around the same time as ConnectedWorld, Bosch announced a partnership with the huge software firm SAP in a powerful play for connected vehicles, manufacturing machinery, and tools. This connection will make those industrial and consumer products smarter, more efficient, faster, easier to monitor, and almost always less costly to operate.
Lest anyone think these are merely novelties of limited applications, consider the IoT’s hockey-stick growth curve: from five billion devices already under the IoT umbrella in 2015 to 21 billion projected for 2020. For cost savings, the company predicts its own use of IoT devices will save them €1 billion and generate an additional €1 billion in sales within two years.
It’s exciting to consider what that IoT connectivity will—and in some cases already does—look like.
For example, among the approximately 250 IoT projects from the company’s Software Innovations division are automotive-based air filter testing devices that can address particulate pollution that plagues many cities, especially those in Asia. Feedback from filters mounted on cars in field-testing will help optimize cleaning performance and reduce automotive failures.
Buildings, both commercial and residential, are another IoT hotbed. The intelligent networking of heating systems, controlled remotely from computers, tablets, and smartphones, leads to energy efficiency and greater occupant comfort. Expanding on that for smart homes, Bosch-created central gateways connect multiple devices and appliances with multiple users to produce home automation, better security, and tighter energy management.
There’s even an Australian oyster farm where “the Internet of Oysters” is being tested to inform the aquaculture farmers on optimal times for harvest.
But all is not a bed of roses—or of oysters—when it comes to IoT. There’s a lot of potential for things to go wrong, particularly as a result of bad actors who wish to cause damage and dysfunction.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported in 2016 that certain weaknesses in IoT systems pose serious risks. The federal agency specifically looked at consumer wearables, home security devices, connected cars, household appliances, and other applications. Each is subject to hacking, malware, and Distributed Denial of Service Attacks (DDoS), the last of these occurring when a large group of botnets flood a network with fake requests that effectively block access by legitimate user-devices.
What makes IoT devices particularly vulnerable is that they operate on low power, which then limits built-in security. And of what’s there, many system operators fail to set up useful passwords.
Further, there is a tremendous amount—terabytes—of data being transmitted from devices that might be useful to hackers, competitors, hostile state actors, or thieves. Geolocations of shipments and vehicles, for example, might be useful in war and defense.
Bosch has devoted considerable resources to address these security problems. The company explained the precautions it is taking in a white paper published in 2017: “The pace of change must not blind us to the fact that customer trust must be continually earned and that making cyberphysical systems truly trustworthy is a complex endeavor.” The solutions include an open-source approach with an open IoT ecosystem, and establishing a secure foundation for IoT solutions that are “invented for life,” say the white paper authors.
The solutions also include baking security into the design of a system, rather than tacking it on as an afterthought. This is a subset of a broader, holistic IoT security approach that looks at the whole life cycle of solutions and products. It has to consider processes, organizational requirements (such as a security governance structure), and all applied technologies.
Though IoT offers serious potential, dishwashing, weekend carpentry projects, and even commercial heating systems and oyster farming were once simpler and, perhaps, easier to protect. Bosch knows that, as it’s been in business since the late nineteenth century. That said, the IoT is making those things better in a host of ways.
As a classic “thing”-maker, it would seem advantageous that Bosch act as a leader in working at these essential cybersecurity issues. The organization’s decades of understanding of how homemakers, carpenters, farmers, and building operators have historically used those products should mean a safer future for the increasingly connected world.
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