Securing consumer electronics

Kevin Parmenter, Power Systems Design Contributor



Kevin Parmenter, Power Systems Design Contributor

It seems that consolidation is the operative word for the technology industry.  The semiconductor industry has achieved 112 Billion+ Dollars in M&A activity in 2015 as of this writing and the year is not over yet.  This appears that the frenzy will continue in 2016 as the industry matures and becomes more of a commodity. 

AC-DC power in white goods is really a semiconductor solution in integrated power.  The decision is really who’s IC is going to be used.  The Appliance industry is consolidating just like their suppliers.  The long-term American appliance companies have to figure out the consumer electronics business and the global consumer electronics companies are heavy into the appliance business.  In actual fact the appliance business is now part of the consumer electronics industry. 

Lots of pressure is on companies to keep pace with consumer expectations for slick user interfaces, ease of use, reliability, efficiency such as energy star, Blue angel, in terms of portables expectations are that features and functionality go up and battery life is increased – and without any Moores-law type of breakthroughs in battery technologies on the horizon, we could use some.

Connectivity is increasing while digital power is becoming more mainstream.  This is all going on while the increase in hacker activity is on the rise.  We see vehicle systems being hacked – with the IoT increasing we must make sure products being developed including digital power products have security built-in so hackers do not decide to cause havoc in consumer goods. 

At a recent hack-a-thon in Las Vegas where ethical hackers meet to share best practices, the hotel where the attendees met were asked a few weeks ahead of the conference if they would like some volunteers from the group to check out their wireless and IT systems to make sure they were secure.  The response was the typical arrogant corporate speak response you get from a large hotel chain – “Oh we don’t need that we have the most secure systems in the world we are the best globally best practices… fill in your own management speak buzzwords and that’s how it went.  

By the first day of the event, the attendees had a complete list of customers’ credit cards info, they were getting the elevators to stop on the wrong floors, they hacked into the phone system and had wakeup calls scheduled for people at all hours of the day and night who had never requested them.  They were leaving voice mails in the system too.  They replaced the holographic dealer image in the gaming systems with their own creating – I can only imagine what that was… and on and on. 

The hotel was given a report of the vulnerabilities and modestly accepted the offer to secure their systems from the good guys.  Think of what the bad guys can do with your Internet connected power and consumer goods.   This is a huge opportunity for power electronics engineers and electronics and software engineers in general.