Is the Internet of Things (IOT) the greatest new technological frontier in a generation, or the next great threat? The answer, of course, is both. IOT has the potential to be both a godsend and a plague, depending on how we use it. On the positive side, IOT opens new doors to software development that allow a level of personal interconnectivity and convenience heretofore inconceivable. On the negative side, it opens new doors that hackers can use to launch newer and greater cyber attacks.
IOT: The New Frontier
The Internet of Things, simply put, is the integration of Internet-enabled computer technology into articles of clothing, automobiles, household items, personal accessories, and other everyday objects to perform a variety of everyday functions previously left to us human beings to handle.
These IOT-enabled items are embedded with sensors that read data like temperature, time, humidity, light, sound, motion, pressure, weight, etc., and communication devices like RFID (radio-frequency identification), QR codes, or wireless technology to send this data for analysis and receive instructions for any necessary response. This allows for machines to take over doing many of the monotonous, repetitive tasks of daily living for us, so that we can get about to bigger and better things.
The Internet of Things offers many exciting, practical benefits that almost seem to border on the realm of science fiction, such as:
- monitoring your vitals directly from your clothing
- tracking your children’s whereabouts directly from their book bag
- keeping your refrigerator stocked with automatic calls to the store to reorder items you’ve run out of
- starting the shower when your alarm goes off and warm the water to your ideal temperature
- turning on the porch light and house heat remotely when you’re on your way home from work
These are examples of the advantages of IOT to consumers, which in turn benefit businesses by making their products more relevant and appealing. However, there are still other, perhaps even more powerful, ways that the IOT can benefit businesses.
All of those little computers connected to the Internet that are integrated into consumers’ everyday belongings can also be used to collect product and user data, and transmit it back to you, the business owner. In this way, businesses have access to unprecedented data about how exactly their products are being used.
This in turn, of course, can then be used to update and improve those products in future iterations to fit even more seamlessly with the way consumers prefer to utilize them. In short, IOT may be the biggest boon to market research since Google Analytics.
Thanks to IOT our civilization can look forward to the following imminent innovations, some of which we’re already beginning to see take shape:
- automated homes
- smart cities
- smart environments
- industrial automation
- health monitoring
IOT is truly a frontier in technology, as it provides vastly improved efficiency, saving both time and money, while improving the usefulness and durability of the machines we use to facilitate our lives. Therefore it improves our quality of life by allowing us more time, money, and energy for more creative and rewarding pursuits.
It does, however, present one worrisome drawback.
IOT: The New Big Threat
The problem that many in the IT world see with an IOT-enabled world is that every computer connected to the Internet, no matter how small, can be hacked.
Just like every personal computer has its own unique IP address, so too does every communication device embedded into IOT articles. Each IP address is a unique point of communication, like a doorway opening in two directions. This creates a point of access that hackers can exploit. In this way, IOT makes previously safe items and objects suddenly vulnerable to cyber security threats.
A hacker could take control of the computer embedded into an IOT device and use it to communicate instructions to other, more powerful, machines nearby. This is how hackers cover their tracks: by routing their manipulations through a network of other people’s machines, making it nearly impossible to trace them back to their original source.
When more and more systems of our cultural infrastructure are infused with (and dependent on) IOT, a plethora more information will become available to anyone who knows how to access it. This means big data on a city’s water and power usage, for example, could get into the wrong hands. And if law enforcement integrates IOT into their systems, then criminals have that many more inroads to create potential havoc.
It also means personal privacy is at risk, as all the information our IOT-enabled belongings collect about us can potentially be accessed by the wrong people and used to cause us trouble. Not only could a hacker learn things about us that we don’t want them to know, they can even change data, with consequences ranging from inconvenient to life-threatening.
Cyber security teams have been dealing with just this type of problem for as long as the Internet has existed. The difference now, with the advent of IOT, is a proliferation of mini and micro computers all over, making it easier and easier for hackers to slip through security nets.
Fortunately as fast as software development teams are putting out new apps to make more everyday objects more convenient, they’re also working just as fast to keep up with the security risks these new technologies present. Nevertheless any businesses considering implementing IOT in their infrastructure or product offerings, needs to consider both security and privacy concerns moving forward.