Research at Cisco

Six Challenges in Home Network Configuration, Control and Troubleshooting

Project ID:


RFP-2010-067

Title:


Six Challenges in Home Network Configuration, Control and Troubleshooting

Summary:


We are interested in funding efforts that focus on one or more of six practical problem areas for today's home networks. These problems are the Failure of Plug and Play, Configuration Complexity, the need for Alternative Configuration Paradigms, the lack of effective Access Controls, issues of Public Versus Private Networking, and Centralized Versus Distributed Control of home network services.

Full Description:


There is a wide gulf between what users can do on their home networks today and what future applications demand. New applications such as in-home media and energy management need a new level of reliability and serviceability from home networks. Today, however, network configuration and control problems are widespread on self-managed - and unmanaged - home gateways, network-attached storage, media servers, and other products. There are several configuration and control problems in the current state of the art that may benefit from more research attention.

  1. The Failure of Plug and Play: Over ten years ago, the UPnP Forum and others set out to make home networks "plug and play", using an analogy from PC peripheral installation. Unfortunately, while UPnP IGD (Internet Gateway Device protocol) is widely shipped, it is not widely used due to a dearth of management applications (i.e. IGD control points). The entire industry lacks methods for simple configuration and control of residential gateways and other network devices. Instead, automated tools for configuring gateway services such as DNS addresses, NATs and firewalls have led to some well-publicized attacks.
  2. Configuration Complexity: Easy setup of consumer network equipment relies on PC installation scripts, which have a "day zero" vulnerability in their use of a well-known password. Although installation scripts shipped on CDs, DVDs, USB drives and other media may always be needed by some users, others don't or can't use this method, e.g. when there is no PC interface, such as on handheld devices, or when an operating system can't run the installation script. If the installation CD isn't used, or some setting needs to be reset, people must use system configuration screens. The current practice of giving total system configuration access to the user is confusing to many. Giving programmatic tools (like UPnP) total access gives the tool too much privilege. Alternative methods need a different paradigm such as social networking or outsourcing of configuration and management.
  3. Alternative Configuration Paradigms: Alternative paradigms for the configuration and control of home networks have had some success to date. The WiFi Alliance has developed 'mental models' for device introduction that include pushing buttons, entering a number or other actions that are specific to the purpose, application or device. Although products have shipped with such features, most product developers and vendors today persist in having users configure products using a PC installation CD or by editing the system configuration in a GUI.
  4. Access Controls: Home gateway/routers, network attached storage, servers and other shared, network devices have rudimentary access controls that ignore established security principles such as least privilege. The lack of suitable access controls enables malware and other interlopers to subvert critical network services. Tasks like configuring shares on network storage or granting privileges to utility providers' devices for energy management are beyond the capability of today's typical home network user.
  5. Public Versus Private Networks: Earlier LAN protocols such as NetBIOS and AppleTalk have evolved into today's UPnP, Bonjour, and other "private" or "local scope" protocols. In the near future, dual-stack IPv4/IPv6 home networks offer private and public addressing for Bonjour, UPnP, sensor networks, and other services with private scopes such as Unique Local Addressing and Link Local Addressing. There is little guidance available, however, for using scoped addressing on home networks that include mobile as well as fixed-location devices and a more-than-sufficientsupply of global IPv6 addresses.
  6. Centralized versus Distributed Control: Home network protocol suites such as UPnP and Bonjour use distributed algorithms for naming, addressing, and service discovery on dual-stack Internet Protocol networks. Highly distributed solutions have known problems, however, such as in revoking a device that has been lost or stolen. Centralized solutions such as outsourced management solve some of these problems. We are interested in the tradeoffs of centralized versus distributed management solutions.

We are looking for novel approaches to these and related problems. Cisco is interested in relevant work by researchers in computer science and engineering fields such as networking, security and in interdisciplinary areas such as HCI and home automation.

Constraints and other information:


Please use the link below to submit a proposal for research responding to this RFP. After a preliminary review, we may ask you to revise and resubmit your proposal.

Proposal submission:


Please use the link below to submit a proposal for research responding to this RFP. After a preliminary review, we may ask you to revise and resubmit your proposal.

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RFPs may be withdrawn as research proposals are funded, or interest in the specific topic is satisfied. Researchers should plan to submit their proposals as soon as possible. The deadline for Submissions is the Friday of the first week of each calendar quarter (the months of January, April, July, October). Funding decisions and communication will occur within 90 days from the quarterly submission deadline. The usage of funding is expected within 12 months of funding decision. Please plan your requests accordingly.

Questions? Contact: research@cisco.com