IoT devices must have a thankless job.
When they are working just fine, nobody notices them. But all it takes to be in the news is one bad vulnerability.
Who can forget the scare St. Jude Medical received back in 2017? The FDA confirmed that St. Jude Medical’s implantable IoT cardiac devices had vulnerabilities using which a hacker could administer incorrect pacing and shocks to the patient.
A simple DDOS attack on IoT pacemaker devices could disrupt connectivity and drain their batteries, thus hampering continuity. This can put the patient’s life at risk. Devastatingly powerful botnets can eavesdrop on a conversation, spy on the private life of a user through their security camera, or hold them to ransom.
“According to Kaspersky Labs, an IoT system developed by Orpak Systems for gas stations across the US had weak passwords. This could enable hackers to change gas prices, and steal credit card details and license plate numbers. In extreme cases, they could make the gas station stop functioning or cause an explosion in storage tanks.”
As an IoT device manufacturer, you don’t want your product, brand name, or investments to get jeopardized. This makes the need for robust connectivity, continuity, and cybersecurity of IoT devices more significant than ever.
IoT devices connect with and transmit information between other relevant IoT devices, cloud, infrastructure, and applications via a range of connectivity solutions such as cellular, NFC, Bluetooth®, Z-Wave, and 802.11 WLAN. Mission-critical IoT devices such as those used in military and healthcare are expected to connect flawlessly and securely at all times.
This makes connectivity one of the top and complex challenges for engineers.
Challenges –The foremost challenge with connectivity is achieving an optimum tradeoff between power consumption, range, and bandwidth. It is impossible to achieve a perfect balance, but an adequate combination of R&D, design, and testing solutions can help manufacturers achieve near perfection. Different IoT devices run on protocols such as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Z-Wave, ZigBee, Thread, and We-Mo. Each IoT product needs to be tested for compatibility with these protocols. Engineers further face the following challenges –
- Lack of RF knowledge – Inability to understand which test solutions to use during development and manufacturing phases.
- Difficulty in simulating actual operational modes during testing.
- Insufficient RF test coverage – Uncertainty about the parameters to test in research, design, and manufacturing phases.
- The high cost of testing.
- Unreliable or inconsistent test results.
Solutions – Low cost and easy-to-use RF test equipment use input power measurement, Packet Error Rate (PER) using acknowledgment (ACK) count, and receiver sensitivity tests to measure key transmitter and receiver parameters, which could be affected by manufacturing defects.
Connectivity testing on IoT devices can be achieved by choosing the appropriate test equipment for the right networks. This may include wireless connectivity test sets (like the Anritsu MT8862A), bluetooth test sets, and LTE test solutions (radio communication analyzers and base station simulators), depending on your requirements. A wide variety of applications such as VHF, broadcasting, paging, cellular, GPS, PCS/GSM, 3G, ISM, WLAN and WLL are supported by testing using antenna analyzers to optimize microwave link reliability.
Signal analyzers, signal generators, and conformance test systems work across communication technologies such as LTE, NB-IoT, and Cat-M.
Network analyzers like the Keysight E5071C help engineers verify signal integrity design and verification of IoT devices, and a multitude of design, R&D, and testing applications. Testing devices such as R&S©CMW wideband radio communications testers and R&S©CMW 100 communications manufacturing test sets cover important cellular and non-cellular technologies.
Since IoT devices often handle critical jobs, they need to have long battery life. For industrial and agricultural IoT devices, it is normal to expect a battery life of ten years – between charges.
The cost of power consumption can go higher if a large number of IoT devices with inadequate power management are connected. Batteries that drain quickly can also render the device useless and disrupt the operations. IoT devices measure vital stats of patients, administer the medication automatically, and inform the doctors in case of any deviation from normal parameters. Batteries of such devices are not expected to go dead abruptly.
Challenges –One of the biggest challenges is to achieve an adequate tradeoff between higher battery life and flawless connectivity. Engineers have to design Integrated Circuits (ICs), processing, control, and communication components for optimal power consumption. Other challenges include –
- Reduce circuit design cycles to meet time-to-market goals.
- Design deep sleep modes in-between sensing, measuring, and edge computing, and communicating with a base station.
- Achieve an optimal balance between performance and power consumption.
For example, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) devices have higher battery life but a lower range of operation. WiFi-based devices have a much larger range of connectivity but use higher battery power. That being said, BLE could be ideal for tracking bands whereas WiFi could work better for remotely operated traffic management systems.
Solutions – Depending on the complexity of your battery test needs, you can choose from inexpensive battery testers or go for wide-ranging battery life testing solutions. These combine a DC power analyzer, source/measure and electronic DC load modules, RF event detector, and dedicated software in one integrated bundle. Such comprehensive battery test solutions let you–
- Detect design weakness with quick power consumption analysis.
- Optimize the battery life of IoT devices.
- Simplify test development.
For instance, the Keysight X8712A is an IoT device battery life optimization solution that helps measure and optimize performance in real-world conditions where the battery life of the device is impacted by carrier aggregation, higher-order MIMO, and other cellular-IoT capabilities.
Lack of adequate encryption and poor password security can make any IoT device a liability and potential security threat to customers’ privacy or business operations.
Challenges –There are no industry-wide standards defined for manufacturers to follow for cybersecurity. This makes it difficult to produce all IoT devices of similar security standards, given that there are already billions in use across the globe. Most data procured by IoT devices sit on a cloud.
Hackers could infiltrate into the network of an IoT device even if it is running on a VPN and jump to the cloud network and cause massive revenue losses. The vulnerability of IoT devices poses the need to design separate networks.
Solution –The best way to achieve exceptional cybersecurity is to adopt a three-layer approach that includes –
- Device-level security – Consider security at the earliest stages of device design and manufacture, and perform validation throughout the product life-cycle.
- Network-level security – Adopt a series of policies and procedures for your business network.
- Enterprise-level security – Educate and update everyone including non-IT staff about data security and risk of cyber-attacks.
It is important for design and manufacturing engineers to have low-cost equipment that tests the IoT devices in the production environment and checks their robustness against possible cyber-attacks.
Nobody wants incidents like St. Jude Medical’s and Orpak’s on their watch. And it is clear that connectivity, continuity, and cybersecurity go hand-in-hand.
A robust and reliable testing solution should ideally be cheap, support over-the-air testing, chipset driver agnostic, and able to replicate the tests at high speed for scalability. Systems and hardware required to safeguard connectivity, continuity, and cybersecurity will continue to evolve as newer IoT devices are introduced in the market and hackers find novel ways to disrupt services.
This makes it necessary for IoT device manufacturers to update their production line with best-in-class testing devices and comprehensive test strategies.