“Hey Alexa…”

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“Hey Alexa…”

Published 
April 17, 2020
“Hey Alexa…”

The Origins

The idea behind connected devices has been around since the 1970s, when it was referred to as ‘embedded internet’ or ‘persuasive computing’. But it wasn’t until 1999, when Kevin Ashton fashioned the term ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT), that a new movement of devices was embraced.

IoT is a system of interrelated computing devices or machines that have been assigned with unique identifiers, and hence have the ability to transfer data over a network without any interaction from a human or another computer.

It’s not difficult to ascertain the obvious appeal for such devices, particularly when they were first introduced to the mainstream market. Having a device do what the user would like it to do, all without them needing to get involved, results in long-term user efficiency, convenience and satisfaction. It almost seems too easy to turn any device into a part of the IoT, by merging it with the digital world. The simplicity of the concept means that it’s earned a footing in consumer, enterprise and industrial markets.

The Trends

Cisco predicted that by the year 2020 over 50 billion devices worldwide would be interconnected and linked to the Internet. And that prediction has reigned true, with the massive (and significantly increasing) growth and popularity of smart devices.

Its potential appears to be limitless, and constant advancements in technology, artificial intelligence and network performance means that the development shows no sign of slowing down.

The top 5 applications for IoT technology include:

-       Processautomation

-       Smart home automation

-       Smartcars

-       DecisionAnalytics

-       SmartGrids

However, that’s not to say they’re the only places where interconnectivity is required. They are also influencing a revolutionary change in healthcare, manufacturing, retail, energy and agricultural industries too, and many businesses are understanding adoptingIoT allows them to gain that all-important competitive advantage, optimising operational efficiencies through real-time data management and task-automation.

COVID-19

During the enforced lockdown period brought about by the Coronavirus global pandemic, there has been a significant rise in the supply of IoT devices.

Non-essential workers are now having to work from home, and that sets a precedence for smart technology that enables seamless integration with your current work setup. Being able to use fast and reliable network technology while at home means that you’re always connected, and you can focus on your job worry-free.

Having a sophisticated home entertainment system has become a matter of priority during the crisis, with the whole family now spending so much of their time at home. Whether you’re a working parent now having to entertain and home-school your children, or a furloughed worker with a lot of free time on your hands, or a retired pensioner in need of stimulus – being able to tap into information through an IoT device means staying connected and accessing a plethora of information and resources at a tap of a button or simple voice command.

The crisis will continue to reshape the IoT industry, as suppliers find ways to help people work and learn remotely, remain connected with family and friends, and stay active and healthy during this time, all while maintaining a positive mental attitude.

The Risks

Whilst the attraction for these devices is obvious, the risks involved may not be so, and it’s important to be aware of how to protect yourself and others around you.

The average user is quite versed in protecting themselves from security breaches in standard Internet usage –avoiding phishing emails, running virus scans, password protection etc – but there’s still a vast lack of knowledge when it comes to using IoT devices, even for professionals. Hackers may be able to infiltrate a restricted network by human impersonation and deception tactics, and thereby accessing data undetected.

With the setup of an interconnected device, it’s difficult to run suitable updates on the system, as you would on a standalone machine. Lack of updates, or insufficient quality of them, leaves those devices open to cybersecurity breaches. The absence of human intervention on those processes, particularly where devices may be remotely based, means it’s difficult to conduct physical spot-checks either. The devices are therefore left fully exposed and the user at severe risk.

Botnets remain one of the greatest risks to an IoT device, capable of performing destructive DDoS attacks on a massive scale. Each botnet running one or more further bots quickly expands to a vast collection and instigate attacks of unauthorised access and data leaks.

Whilst so many people are using IoT devices to try to simplify their daily life or create business efficiencies, they do put the user at risk of confidentiality breaches. Hackers frequently use IoT devices to intrude on the privacy of unsuspecting individuals and organisations, and consequently sell personal data onto the black market.

Conclusion

It’s a matter of risk versus reward for the millions of users of IoT devices worldwide. They aim to bring about enormous efficiencies and make things easier in our everyday lives – if you want to listen to a song you activate Alexa, if you want to remotely switch on your home alarm system you click a button, and the list goes on. But the trade-off to enjoying technology like this is the vulnerability of data breaches.

As the popularity of IoT devices continues, so will the intricacy of the cybersecurity challenges. Keeping these devices shielded, and the user safeguarded, is a constant battle, but it’s key if we are to continue to live in an interconnected world.

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