The World Wide Web was created as a portal for communication, to connect people from far away, and while it started with electronic mail, mail moved to instant messaging, which let people have conversations and interact with each other from afar in real-time. But now, the new paradigm is the Internet of Things and how machines can communicate with one another. Now one can use a wearable gadget that can unlock the front door upon arrival at home and can message the air conditioner so that it switches on. This is IoT.
WHAT EXACTLY IS IoT?
The term ‘Internet of Things’ was coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton, a computer scientist who put Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips on products in order to track them in the supply chain, while he worked at Proctor & Gamble (P&G). And after the launch of the iPhone in 2007, there were already more connected devices than people on the planet.
Fast forward to today and we live in a more connected world than ever. So much so that even our handheld devices and household appliances can now connect and communicate through a vast network that has been built so that data can be transferred and received between devices. There are currently more IoT devices than users in the world and according to the WEF’s report on State of the Connected World, by 2025 there will be more than 40 billion such devices that will record data so it can be analyzed.
IoT finds use in many parts of our lives. It has helped businesses streamline their operations, reduce costs, and improve productivity. IoT also helped during the Covid-19 pandemic, with devices that could help with contact tracing and wearables that could be used for health monitoring. All of these devices are able to gather, store and share data so that it can be analyzed. The information is gathered according to rules set by the people who build these systems.
APPLICATION OF IoT
IoT is used by both consumers and the industry.
Some of the widely used examples of CIoT (Consumer IoT) are wearables like health and fitness trackers, smart rings with near-field communication (NFC), and smartwatches. Smartwatches gather a lot of personal data. Smart clothing, with sensors on it, can monitor the wearer’s vital signs. There are even smart jewelry, which can monitor sleeping patterns and also stress levels.
With the advent of virtual and augmented reality, the gaming industry can now make the experience even more immersive and engrossing. Smart glasses and headsets are used, along with armbands fitted with sensors that can detect the movement of arms and replicate the movement in the game.
At home, there are smart TVs, security cameras, smart bulbs, home control devices, and other IoT-enabled ‘smart’ appliances like coffee makers, that can be turned on through an app, or at a particular time in the morning so that it acts as an alarm. There are also voice-command assistants like Alexa and Siri, and these work with software written by manufacturers that can understand simple instructions.
Industrial IoT (IIoT) mainly uses connected machines for the purposes of synchronization, efficiency, and cost-cutting. For example, smart factories gather and analyze data as the work is being done. Sensors are also used in agriculture to check soil moisture levels, and these then automatically run the irrigation system without the need for human intervention.
- The IoT device market is poised to reach $1.4 trillion by 2027, according to Fortune Business Insight.
- The number of cellular IoT connections is expected to reach 3.5 billion by 2023. (Forbes)
- The amount of data generated by IoT devices is expected to reach 73.1 ZB (zettabytes) by 2025.
- 94% of retailers agree that the benefits of implementing IoT outweigh the risk.
- 55% of companies believe that 3rd party IoT providers should have to comply with IoT security and privacy regulations.
- 53% of all users acknowledge that wearable devices will be vulnerable to data breaches, viruses,
- Companies could invest up to 15 trillion dollars in IoT by 2025 (Gigabit)
CONCERNS AND SOLUTIONS
- Two of the biggest concerns with IoT devices are the privacy of users and the devices being secure in order to prevent attacks by bad actors. This makes knowledge of how these things work absolutely imperative.
- It is worth noting that these devices all work with a central hub, like a smartphone. This means that it pairs with the smartphone through an app and acts as a gateway, which could compromise the smartphone as well if a hacker were to target that IoT device.
- With technology like smart television sets that have cameras and microphones, the major concern is that hackers could hack and take over the functioning of the television as these are not adequately secured by the manufacturer.
- A hacker could control the camera and cyberstalk the victim, and therefore it is very important to become familiar with the features of a device and ensure that it is well protected from any unauthorized usage. Even simple things, like keeping the camera covered when it is not being used.
- There is also the concern that since IoT devices gather and share data without human intervention, they could be transmitting data that the user does not want to share. This is true of health trackers. Users who wear heart and blood pressure monitors have their data sent to the insurance company, who may then decide to raise the premium on their life insurance based on the data they get.
- IoT devices often keep functioning as normal even if they have been compromised. Most devices do not log an attack or alert the user, and changes like higher power or bandwidth usage go unnoticed after the attack. It is therefore very important to make sure the device is properly protected.
- It is also important to keep the software of the device updated as vulnerabilities are found in the code and fixes are provided by the manufacturer. Some IoT devices, however, lack the capability to be patched and are therefore permanently ‘at risk’.
Humanity inhabits this world that is made up of all these nodes that talk to each other and get things done. Users can harmonize their devices so that everything runs like a tandem bike – completely in sync with all other parts. But while we make use of all the benefits, it is also very important that one understands what they are using, how it is functioning, and how one can tackle issues should they come up. This is also important to understand because once people get used to IoT, it will be that much more difficult to give up the comfort and ease that these systems provide, and therefore it would make more sense to be prepared for any eventuality. A lot of times, good and sensible usage alone can keep devices safe and services intact. But users should be aware of any issues because forewarned is forearmed.
Author:Mr. Naman Sareen, Research Associate, CyberPeace Foundation