Rise of another kind of Botnet

Wikipedia defines a botnet as a collection of compromised computers connected to the internet and used for malicious purposes. Before proceeding I want to make two things clear,

  1. I do not agree with their definition.
  2. I am in support of botnets.

The later point may prove to be more controversial than the first. However, it is important to understand the origin of bots to begin with; bots began their early life as virtual IRC channel participants that could perform automated actions in the absence of a user. Most will agree this was a very useful feature of bots but that use is not why you know about bots or reading this article!

Botnets unfortunately, are largely known for their use in massive identity data theft and their participation in denial of service (DoS) attacks. If I could draw a parallel between bots and any other object on the planet it would be a spade, a useful farming implement but also a murder weapon of choice for the deranged.

As I lack the interest or motivation in coming up with a definition that will make all happy I unilaterally declare a botnet to be a coordinated network of automated “intelligent” agents (though most are plain dumb and experience a case of digital paralysis in the absence of a ‘bot herder’ who tells them what to do).

However, I want to draw your attention to another type of botnet that is quietly gaining momentum. The world over wireless sensor networks are being rolled out as solutions to asset tracking, personnel safety, environmental monitoring and probably what constitutes the biggest current usage, automated meter reading. What may first seem like different problems all have at their heart one thing, humanity’s unrestrained desired to know everything, everywhere at anytime.

Some municipalities around the world such as the Songdo City dubbed u-City (city of ubiquity) in South Korea have started rolling out WSNs that offer a host of services such as pollution, temperature and humidity readings etc. This could one day lead to a future were governments and corporations own software agent enabled WSNs aka botnets allowing individuals to rent a portion of the botnet to carry out an environmental study in any given region without ever setting foot there or maybe play the omnipresent stalker!

With the rising popularity of IEEE 802.15.4, a very efficient low power MAC and PHY layer communication protocol, the only thing lacking now is a standardized higher layer. Just as HTTP won the protocol race and today provides a simple universal consistent mechanism for delivering data with varying degrees of complexity to diverse applications, the race is only heating up between Zigbee (a protocol stack that can be customized to one of the predefined application profiles e.g. home automation, asset tracking etc) and its just as curiously named competitors.


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