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ITWG releases draft Internet of Things data security and privacy standards

The Internet of Things (“IoT”) – put simply, the connection of physical objects to the Internet, or other networks, allowing them to send and receive data – is increasingly encroaching into every aspect of our daily lives.

With the growing popularity of products such as Internet-connected smoke alarms and thermostats, door locks, fitness trackers, and smartwatches, Gartner predicts that the number of in-use IoT devices will exceed 25 billion by 2020 - over 6 times the number recorded in 2014. However, the integration of Internet-connected physical objects and appliances into every aspect of consumers’ daily lives results in the collection of increasingly sensitive and personal data – including information regarding health, lifestyle choices, and behavioural patterns.This brings with it an amplification of data privacy and security risks.


Following a report from the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) in January 2015 urging IoT device manufacturers and retailers to limit the quantity and duration of retention of collected data, US non-profit organisation the Online Trust Alliance established the IoT Trustworthy Working Group (“ITWG”). Coordinating multi-stakeholder input from companies (including Microsoft) and consumer groups (including the Consumer Reports), the ITWG set out to develop a voluntary framework of best practices in security, privacy, and sustainability (the “Framework”), with a particular focus on the primary categories of:

  • home automation and connected home products; and
  • wearable technologies (limited to health & fitness categories).

On 11 August 2015, the ITWG released a draft version of the Framework containing 23 proposed ‘minimum requirements’ and a further 12 ‘additional recommendations’. The draft Framework constitutes a ‘proposed baseline for any self-regulatory and/or certification program’ pertaining to connected home and wearable products, and rather than being a ‘lowest-common denominator’ on privacy and security is intended to set a higher bar that is supplemental to regulatory and legal requirements.

Principles of the Framework

The ITWG has created the Framework on the basis of the Fair Information Practice Principles (“FIPPs”); a US framework of defining principles to be used in the evaluation and consideration or systems, processes, or programs that affect individual privacy.

Building on best practices recommended by the FTC and OWASP, the Framework drives forward the fundamental principle of transparency and data security. The OWASP IoT Top 10, in particular, highlights the need for a holistic approach when considering security and privacy in the IoT as many surface areas play a part in providing the overall solution - including the IoT device, cloud, mobile application, network interfaces, software, physical security, and others. This leads to multiple potential attack vectors and points of vulnerability; from insecure web interfaces and network services to insufficient authentication / authorisation and security configurability. Addressing this in the Framework, the ITWG has stressed the principle that security and privacy by design must be a priority from the onset of product development, with all members of a company taking a holistic view of end-to-end security and privacy.

Draft Framework

The ITWG has clearly reflected the fundamental principles of transparency and data security in the Framework, with 10 of the 23 ‘minimum requirements’ requiring ‘manufacturers’ (including service and product providers) to openly publish or provide consumers with access to information and the remaining 13 requiring specific security measures and protocols to be put in place to protect consumer data. 

In particular, some of the key ‘minimum requirements’ include:

  • the privacy policy must be readily available to review prior to download, purchase, etc., and optimised for the user interface to maximise readability. In particular, the policies must disclose key consequences of declining to opt-in or opt-out of policies (including impact to usage or key product features or functionality), identify all personally identifiable data types and attributes collected, and notify the user of the term and duration of data retention
  • all device sites and cloud services must utilise HTTPS encryption by default and adhere to SSL best practices using industry standard testing
  • manufacturers must conduct penetration testing for devices, applications, and services, and have capabilities to promptly and reliably remediate vulnerabilities
  • manufacturers must have a breach response and consumer safety notification plan (to be reviewed at least every 6 months)
  • the device must have controls and/or documentation enabling the consumer to set, revise, and manage privacy and security preferences, including the type and amount of information is that transmitted via the device.

Further to the ‘minimum commitment’, manufacturers are encouraged to implement and comply with 12 ‘additional recommendations’; though some may not be applicable to every service or device. These include:

  • taking steps to help prevent personal data from being re-identified
  • adhering to the FIPP of minimal data retention
  • agree to not materially change privacy policies after the product is purchased without consumer consent, providing the core product functionality is not impacted
  • plan for the need to include support for evolving protocols/standards
  • provide the ability for a consumer to return a product without charge after reviewing the privacy practices that are presented during initial set up.

What’s next?

The draft Framework represents a broad consensus of nearly 100 participants, though there are some use cases where consensus is still pending. The OTA will be collecting comments on the draft Framework until 14 September 2015, following which they intend to amend and release a final version of the Framework around mid-November 2015. Should you wish to comment, you should follow the submission information here.

Following the publication of the final Framework, the ITWG has expressed that it or another party may investigate and develop a certification program evaluating devices and applications against published criteria – much like the PCI-DSS Tier certification program for payment cards. It is intended that the Framework will continue to evolve to reflect latest best practices, regulatory requirements, security standards, and the changing threat landscape; ensuing consumers are protected against the latest security and privacy issues as new threats and risks evolve.

Although the ITWG has obtained feedback from a large number of entities in creating the Framework, the requirement for subscribing companies to comply with obligations that are both in addition to, and more onerous than, applicable laws and regulation may deter a number of companies from subscribing. This is added to by the fact that, despite being voluntary, companies that sign-up to the Framework could be subject to government regulation and enforcement – from the FTC in the US, for example.

Despite this, the development of a certification program through which companies can demonstrate that they comply with the best practice requirements set out in the Framework will undoubtedly be attractive to consumers as concern about the amount of data collected by IoT devices, along with fears about data breaches, increases. Given the growing market for IoT devices, companies may find that they have no choice but to to assess and alter their practices in line with the Framework simply in order to remain competitive.  

For further information please contact Nicola Fulford