Underwriters labs, the folks that test most consumer electrical appliances for safety, has set up a division to certify Internet of Things devices – whatever they are. Apparently, most people have heard of the term, but don’t know what that means. An example of it might be your Internet connected refrigerator that texts you when it is low on milk. That is just a simple example. The White House is also interested in some sort of voluntary, industry led, certification for Internet connected consumer devices. Underwriters Labs said that they are working with the White House on those ideas. To give you an idea of how long these things take, UL has been working on their standards process for four years so far.
Right now, if and when UL releases some sort of test, that test would be voluntary. No one knows if manufacturers would be willing to spend the money to get their devices tested.
UL was founded in 1894, so they have had a lot of time to put together tests for everything from hair dryers to sprinkler heads. Generally, their tests are fair and comprehensive. Hopefully – they have not released any details – that will be the case with Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
Part of the challenge with IoT devices is that a lot of the “safety” comes from what the company does with the information after they collect it and that, for the most part, has nothing to do with the device itself. How UL will corral manufacturers who say something when they get the device certified and do something different a year later when someone offers to write them a fat check, is not clear. It is way harder than testing that hair dryer. It also may be way harder for UL to detect that a manufacturer has strayed off the path. At least, so far, your hair dryer doesn’t have an Internet connection.
The white hat hacker Mudge, who currently worked for Google, tweeted last week that he was leaving Google to create a #CyberUL. Mudge is a good guy and I think he will try very hard to do this right.
Another thing. Testing a hair dryer or sprinkler head is, relatively speaking, way easier than testing an Internet connected car that might have 50 computers and a million lines of software in it.
Patching – your car, your refrigerator and maybe even your hair dryer – is a new concept for both consumers and manufacturers. Those processes really don’t exist today and will have to be created. This adds a large cost and support burden for manufacturers. Right now, they are very happy just to leave that buggy hair dryer or refrigerator out there – hoping, maybe, to sell you a new one so they don’t have to deal with the problem.
Still, these are all good things. Likely, it will take years to flesh out, but you have to start somewhere. Stay tuned.
Information for this post came from Dark Reading.