‘The internet of things’

‘The internet of things’

ROMA – COMPUTER researchers at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) have just presented their thought-provoking work on “Internet of Things” (IoT).
The Internet of Things was presented at the prestigious “2019 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 10th International Conference on Mechanical and Intelligent Manufacturing Technologies.”
It was held in Cape Town last month.

NUL researchers were represented by Motšoane Nkhabu, the university’s alumnus.
The inclusion of “non-computer” devices on the internet such as when your doctor logs into her smartphone to “see” your current heart-rate and blood pressure, miles away, is called “Internet of Things.”
“However,” Nkhabu said, “just when a device measuring your heart-rate sends the information to your doctor, hackers start picking it up or even change the information without you and your doctor knowing about it.”
“Our job is to help stop the hackers in their tracks,” he said.

That is no piece of cake. The NUL team’s effort is to bring ingenious ways to simplify application of security to “Internet of Things.”
And this team is made of the following: Khobatha Setetemela, Khotso Keta, Motšoane Nkhabu (all from NUL) along with Simon Winberg from the University of Cape Town.
Allow us to walk you through their rather complex work but in a simple way.

Suppose you want to apply Internet of Things as shown in the above example. You have a sensor that measures your blood pressure and heart-rate, sending the results to your doctor instantly.
And your information needs to be kept confidential – you don’t want every “Jack and Jill” to have a clue about your health. Fine! But there is a problem.

There is someone calling himself Mr Hacker who is also interested in that information for reasons best known to him.
If there is no security, he can easily pick up the information or even change it so that when it reaches your doctor, it is different from what was sent.
Since it is a new field, “Internet of Things” is open to all kinds of mischief by mischievous hackers—hence the need for tough security. That is where Nkhabu, now Wits University MSc Student, and his crew come in.
“Our job is to assist in making it impossible for Mr Hacker to get the information,” he said.

First, scientists have already developed a common way to make it difficult for thieves to hack online information.
That “standard” way is called encryption. Don’t worry, encryption simply means converting information so as to hide it.
Encryption is not new. In around 60 BCE (2000 years ago) Julius Caesar used to hide information by shifting characters by three places on the alphabet.

For instance, the word “water” now becomes “zdwhu.”
If Caesar were to use a computer, he would simply send the word “water”.
Then a computer would change water to “zdwhu,” before sending the message, to fool hackers along the way.
Then the other side of the computer would turn it back to “water” because it knows the encryption method used.

According to Nkhabu, “modern encryption is more complex,” although the idea is the same.
Scientists create what they call “cryptographic algorithms.”
Again, no worries! That simply means the rules which a computer must follow to convert and hide information. You sure understand a thing or two about the difference between software and hardware.

If your brain is hardware, your mind is software. If Microsoft Word in your computer is software, circuit boards inside your computer are hardware.
The rules (cryptographic algorithms) are in the form of software, but they have to be held in hardware, much like your mind must always be in your brain for you to think.
But creating hardware for complex software (cryptographic algorithms) requires computer scientists with exceptional skills and long experience. Put simply, it is a very difficult thing to do, even for smart folks who enter the computer field.

“The focus of our work was to create a means to move from software to hardware in a very simple manner so that you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to achieve it,” Nkhabu said.
They first translate the cryptographic algorithms into simple, easy-to-use computer languages such as C++, Java, or Python.
They used Python in their case. Then they use Migen, which is a tool that is capable of translating Python into hardware. That hardware is called Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA). Let’s visualise.

Suppose you want to build a house.
Then you find that the architectural drawings (cryptographic algorithms) are written in Chinese, the language your civil engineers don’t understand.
You will find a translator (C++, Java, Python) who will change the Chinese-based drawings to English, the language the engineers understand.
Once they are in English, your civil engineers (Migen) transform the English-based designs into real buildings (hardware/FPGA).

The beauty of FPGA is that it is a circuit that you can change (programmable), unlike physical circuits which you can’t change. That would be more like a building whose shape and structure you can change anytime you want to.
The title of their great work read like this “Python-based FPGA Implementation of AES using Migen for Internet of Things Security.”

Own Correspondent


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