Cisco says it'll make IoT safe because it owns the network

The company plans to certify IoT products to take advantage of network security capabilities

20151005 Cisco headquarters sign

A sign greets visitors next to the driveway of Building 9 on the Cisco Systems campus in San Jose, California, on Oct. 5, 2015.

Credit: Stephen Lawson

Cisco Systems is making a play for the fundamental process of putting IoT devices online, promising greater ease of use and security as enterprises prepare to deploy potentially millions of connected objects.

Thanks to a dominant position in Internet Protocol networks, Cisco can do what no other company can: Change networks that were not designed for IoT in order to pave the way for a proliferation of devices, said Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of the IoT & Applications Group.

“The internet as we know it today, and the network that you operate, will not work for the internet of things,” Trollope said in a keynote presentation at the Cisco Partner Summit in San Francisco on Tuesday. “We can solve that problem because we own the network.”

At the heart of this ambitious initiative is security, a theme that’s prominent throughout the summit in San Francisco, where the plan was announced.

Competition is heating up in the potentially lucrative area of orchestrating IoT rollouts and security. Just last week, chip design company ARM introduced its mbed Cloud service and said it was best equipped to lock down the internet of things because most IoT devices use ARM chips.

Within the next year, Cisco will launch a program to certify IoT devices as compatible with its network-based software. Among other things, the software should be able to automatically authorize these devices on a “white-list” basis, allowing only endpoints that are safe instead of trying to find and block those that are not. Devices themselves will play a role here, telling the network what kinds of things they should be able to do, such as only connecting to the home server for the service it provides.

This approach might help to prevent devastating events like the recent Mirai botnet attack that employed thousands of insecure internet-connected cameras.

But the IoT onboarding and management capabilities go beyond security to include automation of other tasks like network configuration that administrators would otherwise have to do.

“There aren’t enough people on Earth to run the network the way it’s being run today, when you look at the scale of the internet of things,” Trollope said during a media briefing after his keynote presentation.

To make this possible, Cisco is using capabilities from Jasper Technologies, the IoT connectivity company it acquired in February. They’ve gone into DNA (Digital Network Architecture), Cisco’s blueprint for building automated and virtualized networks.

The company’s partnership with Apple is an early example of what it can do to help secure and manage devices on Cisco networks, Trollope said.

Asked how much Cisco can really accomplish as just one company, albeit one that’s pervasive in IP networks, Trollope said it hopes to get some of these capabilities standardized. Specifically, it’s helping to push MUD (Manufacturers Usage Description) through the Internet Engineering Task Force. But because Cisco can work faster than a standards body, it will deploy the technology ahead of time, he said.

Don’t expect all this overnight, though. It could take a long time before most devices are equipped to participate. The key to that part of it will be chip companies, which could save manufacturers a lot of work by building in the technology, Trollope said.

To comment on this article and other CIO content, visit us on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.
Download the CIO Nov/Dec 2016 Digital Magazine
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.