Imagine a world where everything in your home, car and work could communicate with each other. When your alarm clock goes off in the morning it would let your coffee machine know it was time to start brewing coffee. If you were stuck in traffic, your car would communicate to your office schedule that you will need to shift your meetings by ten minutes. You calendar could then notify any attendees and reschedule your meeting if necessary. Seems crazy, right?
But did you know, research firm Gartner predicted there would be 6.4 billion “things” electronically connected in 2016, a correct assessment that has seen a 30 percent increase from 2015. An estimated 8.4 billion devices are connected in 2017 and this number is expected to jump to 21 billion within five years. The future is already here.
This post will look at how the Internet of Things is already changing our lives in both the home and at work, what security risks there are and how you can protect against them.
Let’s dive in.
What is the Internet of Things?
Before we start looking at how the Internet of Things is already influencing our lives, it might be best to first explore what it is.
The Internet of Things or IoT in it’s most basic form is everyday devices connected to each other and the internet. These everyday objects such as smart toasters, CCTV cameras or even traffic lights are able to talk to each other and to applications that allow you to configure them. Just as you can use as an app on your phone to setup your wifi-enabled baby monitor, all of your neighbourhood’s street lights, for example, could be configured the same way.
Automating our life at home and at work seeks to reduce human labour and as we move more and more towards smart cars, smart homes and wearable devices, we gather more and more objects that are considering part of IoT.
Let’s take a look at one example; The Samsung Family Hub.
This smart fridge perhaps best demonstrates the capabilities of an everyday household appliance being used improve your daily life.
Here are some of the features:
- A screen on the outside which allows for scheduling, for shopping lists direct to your phone
- Internal cameras so that when you are shopping you can check inside your fridge to see what is missing.
- Wifi-enabled communication so that you can make purchases from the outside screen with your pre-stored credit card information.
Pretty cool, huh?
There are also some significant industry IoT applications too.
IIoT is revolutionising labour
Just think of the possibilities if this kind of thinking could be applied to industry. IIoT or Industry Internet of Things would make it easier to auto-track assets, like shipments and courier deliveries with GPS. In fact, some industries are already embracing this future.
The dairy industry is taking strides in IIoT with smart dairies where milking robots and processing sheds can speak to one another. Imagine how easy life would be for the manager of a huge dairy when he or she can see the health status of all of their cows from their iPad!
These kinds of process management systems also have the ability to revolutionise the agriculture industry.
Smart cities will see energy reduction, and perhaps, better traffic management with improvements such as:
- streetlights that can self-regulate based on the lighting conditions to save energy
- traffic lights that can talk to one another
- cameras that can monitor traffic flow and adjust traffic light sequences to remove congestion
As you can see there are many benefits to the Internet of Things. But, anyone who has seen an episode of Black Mirror is going to be asking the question…
Is it safe?
Anything connected to the internet is vulnerable to cyber attack. This is particularly true of IoT devices for one very simple reason. Not all IoT devices have security settings that can be easily configured. For this reason, plug-and-play type devices should be careful researched before they are connected to the internet.
Let’s look at an IoT device that is already in your home and office; the humble router.
If I were to ask you right now, could you honestly tell me that you, yourself, configured your router to have the strongest password possible and the highest security configurations? Or did you let the guy from the phone company do it?
But, I bet you’ve paid close attention to your PC passwords, you are running anti-virus and are careful when browsing online. For this reason, hackers know full well that it is easier to hack a router rather than to hack a computer. This is because many routers are still configured to their factory settings.
You may be thinking, ‘what can they do with a hacked router?’
A bot is a hijacked internet-capable device that has been taken over by hackers for its computing power. While one router might not seem like a lot of power, imagine what a hacker could do with thousands of hijacked routers, mobile phones, tablets and computers.
This collection of hijacked devices is known as a botnet and gives unlimited computing power to cybercriminals who can use it to bring down major websites and hack large businesses. Not to mention the malware that they can spread. You can learn more about botnets here.
So now, let’s return to the smart fridge.
In the fridge example, we talked about how you could manage your family schedule on the touch screen, display photos and even keep your credit card details stored for online purchases.
Now imagine someone hacked your fridge.
They have the whereabouts of your family, photos that may include your children and your credit card details ready for the taking.
How would you configure the settings to keep this all of this private?
These are the considerations when it comes to the Internet of Things. There are so many benefits that could improve the way we work and make our home lives easier, but keep in mind that whatever is connected to the internet is available to anyone who knows how to take it. Do your research before you connect a product to the internet, learn how to configure any security settings and consider how much access a device really needs to your personal information.
This is an exciting time for technology. Take advantage of efficiency, just do so with some considered security measures.