What is The Internet of Things?


'The Internet of Things' is a concept that became a hot topic in 2013 and has only been getting hotter as the years go on. With the number of connected devices looking to be 11 billion - not including computers and phones - in 2018, it looks IoT is going to continue being a hot topic. Let’s have a recap.

IoT in a nutshell

The term ‘The Internet of Things’ (IoT) is becoming an increasingly growing topic of conversation both in the workplace and outside of it (and you may not have even realised you were talking about it!).  

A very simple explanation is that the term IoT encompasses everything connected to the internet, but it is increasingly being used to define objects that ‘talk’ to each other. This includes everything from mobile phones, washing machines, lights, headphones, watches and nearly everything you can think of.

Let’s look at an example.

‘Smart Home’ is currently the most searched IoT associated feature on Google and has become the revolutionary ladder of success in the residential spaces. It is predicted smart homes will become as common as smart phones. Smart home will allow you to switch on the air conditioning before you get home, turn off lights after you’ve left the house, unlock the doors to friends when you're not home and the list goes on.

How does this impact us and our daily lives?

“If you think that the internet has changed your life, think again. The IoT is about to change it all over again!” Brendan O’Brien, Chief Architect & Co-Founder, Aria Systems

Anything that can be connected, will be connected.

There is no denying that The Internet of Things (IoT) has the power to change our world, and although we are already starting to see its incredible impact, we are still at the beginning of the journey. Soon every device you own will have the ability to be connected to the internet. Whether it is through your phone, watch, household objects, IoT will connect us in ways you can’t even imagine.

Your alarm system, refrigerator and doorbell may already be connected, but changes are starting to take place in cities as well. Better management of energy, water and transportation are bringing people in closer touch with their surroundings and capturing our imaginations for fully integrated, smart, sustainable cities.

The reality is that IoT allows for virtually endless opportunities and connections to take place and it is easy to see why IoT is such a hot topic; it opens the doors to a lot of opportunities but also many challenges….

What are these challenges?

While connected technology provides a plethora of new and exciting possibilities, it also brings challenges - and one of the biggest challenges involves security; everything that’s connected to the internet can be hacked and IoT products are no exception to this.

By leveraging thousands of insecure connected devices, hackers can produce DDoS attacks that can cripple our infrastructure and systems. Another way hackers can use IoS is by directly exploiting a device and using it as a gateway to deeper levels of a network where they gather sensitive and valuable private data.

In 2016, the largest DDoS attack ever was launched on service provider Dyn using an IoT botnet. This lead to huge portions of the internet going down, including Netflix, Twitter, Reddit and CNN. The IoT botnet was made possible by malware called Mirai. Once infected with Mirai computers continually search the internet for vulnerable IoT devices and then use known default usernames and passwords to login, infecting them with malware.

Another example is ‘The Jeep Hack’, back in July 2015, when a team of researchers were able to take control of a Jeep SUV using the vehicles CAN bus. They hijacked the vehicle over the Sprint cellular network and discovered they could make it speed up, slow down and veer off the road.

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So, what’s the fix?

Some IoT engineers are becoming aware of this problem. Observers such a professor Shiu-Kai Chin of Syracuse Universities online Master of Science in Cybersecurity are calling for a system certified security by design for IoT devices. Safety certification company Underwriters Laboratories has a new Cybersecurity Assurance Program that also seeks to mitigate security risks in devices connected to the internet.

There are also steps that both consumers and device manufacturers can take to both mitigate the current risk posed by IoT devices. Some of this steps include:

  • Using the most recent operating system that is technically viable and economically feasible
  • Hardware that incorporates security features
  • Developing an end-of-life strategy for IoT products

In 2018 we are likely to see this trend taken further, “In the short term, we know that IoT will impact on anything where there is a high cost of not intervening and it’ll be simpler day to day issues - like finding a car parking space in busy areas, linking up your home entertainment system and using your fridge webcam to check if you need more milk on the way home.” Matthew Evans, the IoT programme head at tech UK says. “Ultimately what makes it exciting is that we don’t yet know the exact use cases and just that is has the potential to impact on our lives”

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