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Towards Internets of Dialect-Speaking Things

With the Internet of Things (IoT) gradually becoming mainstream, companies and organizations are rapidly embracing its benefits through many sweeping adoptions. However, along with the opportunities, it is critical to recognize the challenges of IoT adoptions. The most important challenge is to address the vulnerability of IoT devices to cyberattacks, especially man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks. Perhaps the security concerns arising from the rapid adoption of IoT are nowhere more apparent than in defense establishments. In this context, deployment of IoT devices in Naval environments implies data collection, processing, and sharing among a host of connected devices such as sensors, microcontrollers, electronic appliances, and computers.

So what makes IoT devices so vulnerable to attacks? The answer lies in the standard protocols used for inter-networking among heterogeneous devices. Such protocols create vulnerabilities because their specifications are universally adopted, making it easy for attackers to learn, understand, and forge protocol messages. Moreover, their generality leads to an implementation bloat, enlarging the attack surface and increasing the number of vulnerabilities in them.

To address the concerns arising from the universality and bloat of standard protocols, we propose to create Protocol Dialects, each being a usage-specific, debloated (in both “depth” and “breadth”) variant of the standard IoT protocol stack, with mutated protocol message formats and message-exchange state machines. The proposed paradigm, which we call the Internets of Dialect-Speaking Things (IoT-D), will compartmentalize devices in each IoT-D by setting up a communication system (a dialect) that will be limited to each IoT-D. By introducing a debloated protocol, it is possible to achieve higher time and space efficiency. The system will thwart MITM attacks through on-the-fly dialect switching and render IoT deployments more secure and agile.

The proposed IoT-D-enabling framework will address the following steps in protocol dialect generation:

  • Protocol stack analysis and modeling
  • Protocol stack debloating and flattening
  • Protocol stack mutation
  • Dialect translation

Our framework is based on a formal, elegant model called ProtBNF, which uniformly models multiple aspects of a protocol stack. The proposed framework, which will be concretized as an IoT-D Dialect Factory, reflects new synergies across the domains of program analysis/transformation, protocol engineering, and moving target defense. Our project team, comprising experts from academia and industry, is committed to transferring technologies developed in this project for Naval field assessment and potential deployment.