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Primitives and Elements of IoT Trustworthiness
Irena Bojanova
MAR 16, 2016 12:40 PM
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Primitives and Elements of IoT Trustworthiness

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently released a DRAFT Interagency Report 8063, “Primitives and Elements of Internet of Things (IoT) Trustworthiness”. This report for first time offers a scientific foundation as to what the Internet of Things is. 

The author of this document, Jeff Voas:

·       Argues that communication, computation, and sensing are the core activities that occur in IoT technologies.

·       Breaks these three into core distributed system components termed “primitives”.  

·       Defines a class of “elements” that allow for the foreshadowing of the trustworthiness of systems built from IoT components, services, and commercial products.

·       Does not have as a goal to give a specific definition for IoT.

The primitives proposed in Draft NIST IR 8063 are: 1) Sensor, 2) Aggregator, 3) Communication channel, 4) eUtility, and 5) Decision trigger. The descriptions of these primitives as presented in the document are as follows:

1.     A sensor is an electronic utility that digitally measures physical properties (e.g. temperature, acceleration, weight, sound, etc.) and outputs raw data.

2.     An aggregator is a software implementation based on mathematical function(s) that transforms/consolidates groups of raw data into intermediate data.

3.     A communication channel is a medium by which the data is transmitted (e.g., physical via USB, wireless, wired, verbal, etc.) between sensor, aggregator, communication channel, decision trigger, or eUtility.

4.     A eUtility (external utility) is a software or hardware product or service, providing computing power that aggregators will likely network   of things have.

5.     A decision trigger creates the final result(s) needed to satisfy the purpose, specification, and requirements of a specific network   of things.

The elements proposed in Draft NIST IR 8063 are: environment, cost, geographic location, owner, and Device_ID, and snapshot. Although not primitives, these elements play a major role in fostering the degree of trustworthiness of a purposed network of things. The descriptions of these elements as presented in the document are as follows:

1.     Environment – The universe that all primitives in a specific network of things operate in; this is essentially the operational profile of a network of things. Analogies are the various weather profiles in which an aircraft operates or a particular factory setting in which a network of things operates. Environment will likely be very difficult to define correctly.

2.     Cost – The expenses (time and money) that a specific network of things incurs in terms of non-mitigated reliability and security risks; additionally, the costs associated with each of the primitive components needed to build a network of things. Cost is an estimation or prediction. Cost drives the design decisions in building a network of things.

3.     Geographic location – Physical place where a sensor or eUtility operates or was manufactured. Manufacturing location is a supply chain trust issue. Note that the operating location may change over time. Note that a sensor’s or eUtility’s geographic location along with communication channel reliability may affect the timeliness of dataflow throughout the workflow. Geographic location determination may sometimes network of things be possible.

4.     Owner - Person or Organization that owns a particular sensor, communication channel, aggregator, decision trigger, or eUtility. There can be multiple owners for any of the primitives. Note that owners may have nefarious intentions that affect overall trust. Note further that owners may remain anonymous.

5.     Device_ID – A unique identifier for a particular sensor, communication channel, aggregator, decision trigger, or eUtility. This will typically be created by the originator of the entity, but it could be modified or forged.

6.     Snapshot -- an instant in time, utilized for synchronization of events fired by sensor, aggregator, communication channel, decision trigger, or eUtility.

Have ideas? Please share them in the comments section here.


Irena Bojanova is a computer scientist at NIST. She serves as Integrity Chair, Publications Board, IEEE CS;  a  Co‐Chair  of  IEEE  Reliability Society IoT Technical Committee, and a founding member  of IEEE Technical Sub‐Committee on Big Data. She is Associate EIC of IEEE IT Professional, and AE of the International Journal of Big Data Intelligence (IJBDI), Previously Irena served as the founding chair of IEEE CS Cloud  Computing  Special  Technical  Community and EIC of the IEEE Transactions on Cloud Computing,  She  is  a  senior  member  of  IEEE  and  can  be  reached  at:

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