More Operating Systems of Things

Canonical Stresses Security as a Core Value

Canonical_Ubuntu_security_lCanonical, maker of the Linux-based Ubuntu operating system (OS), has released a version of Ubuntu intended for use in connected objects. The company stresses security and updatability, referring to the need for a flexible platform for the Internet things like robots, drones and advanced hubs.

Canonical has positioned Ubuntu as an operating system for a post-PC era of devices including smartphones, tablets and set-top boxes. The company points to the established developer base and the open nature of the platform as reasons for embedding Ubuntu in objects.

The Ubuntu Core is upgradable though the firm’s cloud-based Snappy system, which would monitor smart products running the platform. Canonical says that most devices with embedded operating systems are never upgraded, creating security risks to businesses and homes using them. The firm refers to such connected objects as “immortal”, as they will always be vulnerable to attacks.

CCS Insight believes that Canonical is correct to highlight security as a saleable point. Security has taken a back seat to time-to-market in the rush to connect things, despite the acknowledgement that devices could create vulnerabilities. Ethical hackers have proven that seemingly innocuous items like smart light bulbs can be used to access a household’s network, and researchers have found ways to break into automobiles and robots.

Canonical isn’t alone in developing such an embedded OS in the current connected land grab. ARM Holdings recently announced its Mbed OS project, for example — a low-power operating system for connected products running on ARM-designed processors. Oracle has been selling Java as a comprehensive platform for the Internet of things, and other options include Contiki, an extremely low-profile OS requiring only two kilobytes of RAM.

The non-homogenous nature of connected devices means that the embedded platform market is unlikely to become as concentrated as for smartphones or PCs, and there could eventually be dozens of lower-layer platforms to choose from. Canonical’s Ubuntu Core has relatively demanding technical requirements that include a minimum 600 MHz processor, for example — best suited for ‘bots but not bulbs.

An operating system is only one of the layers to evaluate in bringing connected objects to market. Choosing the optimal communications protocols — such as AllJoyn, HomeKit, Thread or ZigBee — is adding to the complexities. Canonical’s core values are likely to be a recurring theme for the Internet of things.

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