February 21, 2017
I like words. I came across a great word applied to technology from the field of cell biology: apoptosis (ap-uh-toh-sis). It refers to how cells self destruct when DNA structural failures are detected, the cell is aging, or for functional reasons. For example, highly regulated apoptosis occurs in the human embryo to cause the flesh between our fingers to be absorbed which leads to the formation of the distinct digits in our hands.
In 2001 this term was applied to packets in a mobile application architecture. If a package of information is sent out, and broadcast, how do you ensure its death if it is not received by a target device? (Christian Tschudin. 2001. Apoptosis — the programmed death of distributed services. In Secure Internet programming, Jan Vitek and Christian D. Jensen (Eds.). Springer-Verlag, London, UK, UK 253-260. )
According to Wikipedia, “Apoptosis can be initiated through one of two pathways. In the intrinsic pathway the cell kills itself because it senses cell stress, while in the extrinsic pathway the cell kills itself because of signals from other cells. ” Researchers then began to think about how cells can terminate themselves in a healthy fashion, or be terminated by an external signal. This was then applied to packets in secure communication stream. And, now, this is being applied to over the air updates for firmware in IoT devices. We will likely be leveraging this kind of security model as Amazon and Azure mature their IoT offerings.
Today we use terms from the built spaces as we design systems: architecture, surfaces, boundaries, metaphors of construction, design/build, etc. In the future, as our systems become more complex, I think we will find ourselves using the language of biology as the source for our architectural patterns we design into systems and software. How do we secure against the multitude of threats in the new ecosystem (hey — there’s another word from biology)? We need systems that will learn from the data directly (see where this is headed?)
Besides, say apoptosis out loud. Isn’t that a great spelling word?