The Internet of Things (IoT) is undoubtedly a vision of a future being built today, as reported on the website of the think tank, IoT. This is because, as the world becomes ever more digitally connected, the very concept is fast gaining momentum both in and out of the workplace. Needless to mention, one of the main reasons for its increased relevance as part of both boardroom and living room discussions stems from people’s contemporary lifestyles, which are increasingly becoming internet-dependent.
A number of statistics from authoritative sources confirm the likelihood that IoT is the new vision of the future and is, therefore, here to stay. The Forbes website, while citing the results of technology research firm Gartner, suggests that more than 26 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020, with 250,000 of them being vehicles. Cisco, on its website, contends this figure will be an estimated 50 billion devices.
If all of this is anything to go by, then the phenomenon, according to some estimates, and again reported by Forbes, has the potential to generate additional $10-$15 trillion for the world GDP by 2034. This, according to Statista, would mean an enhanced final GDP figure of $106-$111 trillion, up from the 2015 figure of $73.5 trillion and the estimated $96 trillion mark it is set to touch by 2020.
With so much excitement surrounding Internet of Things, it is important to understand the meaning of the concept, especially given the fact that despite using it extensively as a part of daily life, 87 percent of the people either do not understand it or have not heard about it, as claimed by Forbes.
Simply put, IoT, at the most basic level, refers to a sophisticated network of all devices that are capable of collecting and transmitting data over the internet. They include any electronic smart devices; be they mobile phones, laptops, tablets, PCs, TVs, coffeemakers, wearable devices, lamps, washing machines, vehicles, etc., with an on and off internet switch that allows them to connect to each other. In fact, there are those who take the meaning of the term a step further by expanding its ambit to encompass smart homes with internet-connected appliances, such as smart trash cans that are capable of self-assessment regarding its disposal, and smart cities, which are digitally interconnected through traffic signals monitoring utility use.
Internet of Things is not a new phenomenon and has been around for 30-40 years. In fact, Forbes reports that ATM machines, which originated somewhere around 1974, were some of the earliest IoT devices to be used. However, according to the website Living Internet, a full-fledged debut of IoT did not take place before 1989, when, during a conference, the first toaster connected via TCP/IP networking and controlled using a Simple Networking Management Protocol Management Information Base (SNMPMIB), was showcased.
However, despite the great degree of excitement governing the very thought of living in a smartly connected world powered by IoT, wisdom suggests a comprehensive and holistic evaluation of everything new and shiny, especially technology, which changes form, shape and capabilities at the bat of an eyelid. In this context, it would be particularly helpful to look at the potential downsides of IoT, which ironically, also define its impact on human life.
According to Tech Crunch, all the devices connected via Internet of Things collect a lot of personal and sensitive information – both from individuals and businesses. Further, because it is shared via the World Wide Web, it is automatically publicly available, and hence, more open and vulnerable to cyber attacks such as phishing and hacking. The result is global concern pertaining to data security and privacy challenges posed by the budding technology, which, if left inadequately addressed, can escalate the cost of ineffective cyber security to nearly $3 trillion by 2020.
Tech Crunch reports that the proponents of this new technological wave are quick to alleviate these concerns by citing the role played by three components of information security: confidentiality – access to sensitive information is restricted and protected, integrity – assurance that the information is in its original form and was not compromised or tampered with and availability – those authorized to access the information are able to do so.
Unfortunately, the reality is not that straightforwardly simple. Those banking on the confidentiality component fail to understand that even the robustness of the modern day security solutions, in the form of anti-virus software, firewalls, encryption, two-factor tokens, etc., all of which erect barriers against unauthorized access, offer insufficient protection. This is because the machines installing them will continue to have caveats and weaknesses in their communication protocols, software, rules and exposed APIs, all of which are highly vulnerable to breach and confidentiality compromise.
Moreover, in many cases, the breach goes undetected, with financial firms taking 98 days on average to detect a breach, while retailers can take up to 197 days, according to results of the latest research reported on the website ZDNet. This automatically implies that even the integrity component is not foolproof enough to address security concerns, since building Internet of Things networks devoid of vulnerabilities is practically impossible. This also means that the last component of availability does not really exist on its own. A breach that is able to break through the first two components has already gained complete access and control over the sensitive information, which is now available to the hacker.
Moving further, simply assuming the above-mentioned information security layers are competent enough to safeguard against cyber attacks is not sufficient even for the sake of argument. Another bigger issue involving Internet of Things pertains to the means to store, track and analyze the massive amounts of data these connected devices would produce, according to Forbes.
As a silver lining in the cloud, an Internet of Things Consortium (IoTC), comprising of leading software, hardware and analytics companies, spanning areas of home automation, wearables, connected cars, smart cities, 3D printing and virtual/augmented reality, was founded in 2012 to oversee the growth of IoT marketplace and develop sustainable business models for the same, besides addressing the above concerns, as confirmed by its website. However, IoTC, which has its headquarters in San Francisco and a business development hub in New York, is itself fairly new and is currently battling consumer skepticism with regards to insecurity and fears about IoT networks governing the very issues, highlighted above, that it seeks to alleviate. Hence, it will take some time before delivering results, as reported on its blog.
Even though man created the computer and the internet, the above dismal picture, in a nutshell, points towards a complicated era or age wherein the lines between the creator and creation will get blurred. If this happens, then Internet of Things would act as a vision, which instead of lending clarity, would only add obscurity to the already precarious future.
By Bashar Saajid
Edited by Cathy Milne
Forbes: A Simple Explanation of the Internet of Things
Living Internet: The Internet Toaster
Cisco: Internet of Things (IoT)
Statista: Global GDP at current prices from 2010 to 2020 (in billion US Dollars)
Tech Crunch: Rethinking security for the Internet of Things
ZDNet: Most companies take over six months to detect data breaches
Internet of Things Consortium (IoTC): Internet of Things Consortium Home Page
Internet of Things Consortium (IoTC): Internet of Things Consortium Blog
Image Courtesy of WeMake Milano’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License