Posts Tagged ‘startups’

Cyberspats on the Internet of Things

Thursday, April 6th, 2017 Michael Barr

When you hear the words “weaponization” and “internet” in close proximity you naturally assume the subject is the use of hacks and attacks by terrorists and nation-state actors.

But then comes today’s news about an IoT garage door startup that remotely disabled a customer’s opener in response to a negative review. In a nutshell, a man bought the startup’s Internet-connected opener, installed it in his home, was disappointed with the quality, and wrote negative reviews on the company’s website and Amazon. In response, the company disabled his unit.

In context of the explosion of Internet connections in embedded systems, this prompts several thoughts.

First and foremost: What does it mean to buy or own a product that relies for some functionality on a cloud-based server that you might not always be able to access? Is it your garage door opener or the manufacturer’s? And how much is that determined by fine print in a contract you’ll need a lawyer to follow?

Additionally: What if in this specific situation the company hadn’t made any public statements at all and had just remotely made the customer’s garage door opener less functional. There’d have then been no fodder for a news story. The company would’ve gotten it’s “revenge” on the customer. And the customer might never have known anything except that the product wasn’t to his liking. Investigating might cost him time and money he did not have.

It’s almost certainly the case that this company would have seen better business outcomes if it had quietly disabled the unit in question. And there are so many ways other insidious ways to go about it, including: bricking the unit, refusing it future firmware updates, or even subtlety downgraded its functionality.

Which brings us back to the weaponization of the Internet. Consumers have no choice but to trust the makers of their products, who have complete knowledge of the hardware and software design (and maybe also the digital signatures needed to make secure firmware updates). And these companies typically have all kinds of identifying data about individual customers: name, geographic location, phone and email address, product usage history, credit card numbers, etc. So what happens when the makers of those products are unhappy with one or more customers: from those posting bad product reviews all the way up to politicians and celebrities they may dislike?

Perhaps private companies are already attacking specific customers in subtle ways… How would we know?

Baltimore, Technology, and Startups

Monday, February 7th, 2011 Michael Barr

In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be expanding the range of subjects that I blog–and tweet–about. For the last five years I have been focusing my writing in these venues almost exclusively on the development of embedded software. Although embedded systems is my first and foremost passion, I maintain several other interests worthy of attention. Three of these subjects are Baltimore, technology, and startups. For me, these subjects are intertwined with embedded.


I was born and raised in Charm City and have lived and worked within about 35 miles of downtown Baltimore in all of the years since; I’m writing this from about 10 miles out. I’m thus a proud Baltimoron (er, Baltimorean?). Though the whole Old Bay seasoning/Maryland crab cakes thing never caught on with me (I’m a vegetarian, hon) I maintain many ties to The City That Reads and, as a result, struggle to this day with the proper pronunciation of words like museum, wash, and sink.

Now, Baltimore is not particularly known for its embedded software jobs. Yet Jack Ganssle and Nigel Jones as well as many top-notch embedded system designers are located right here. Unfortunately, most of the local embedded developers would have to kill you if they told you what kinds of systems they design. (Suffice it to say that the folks over at nearby NSA and their many subcontractors make a heck of a lot more receivers than they do transmitters.)

You’ll be hearing more from me about what’s going on locally here in Baltimore, because that’s my community. Local is the new global, after all.


As much as I truly love working in the field of embedded systems, I recognize that what we do is typically everything but state of the art. At a very high level, our specialty is putting decades old processor technology and trusted reliable software languages and libraries into previously unthinkable applications–in a diverse set of domains, from medical devices to automobiles. That’s why we mostly still use the C programming language.

However, like most good technologists, I maintain an active interest in what’s going on in the state of the art in my field. On the software side, what seems to be hottest right now is cloud computing, smartphone apps, and big data.

I read and think a lot about all of this. And from now on I’ll be passing along bits and pieces that I hope you’ll find interesting too.


Finally, though I am principally an engineer, I also have an MBA. And for over 12 years I have run a successful small business (i.e., Netrino). I’ve also been involved in a few technology startups that didn’t go so far. And I really enjoy interacting with other entrepreneurs, helping them refine their ideas, and sharing what I’ve learned as a businessman. (Over the years, Netrino has also helped a number of startups develop prototype embedded systems.)

This year all of this stuff seems to be coming together in my world. That’s partly because Baltimore has a rapidly expanding technology startup community. The heart of this community is at the Emerging Technology Center in downtown Baltimore, where I’ll be increasingly making time to get involved. There’s also the wonderful Baltimore Node Hackerspace, where Baltimore, technology, and startups actually intersect with embedded systems design.

I think these additions to the topics covered here and in my twitter feed will make for an even more interesting read. I hope you agree and would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.