he Internet of Things, or IoT, might sound like some kind of high-concept sci-fi idea that won’t affect “normal” people, but that’s not quite right. The IoT can be found in many more places than you think. Check your pocket, it’s probably in there, check your house, it’s probably there too, and check work, because it’s definitely there. At its most basic, the IoT is the physical side of online networks, the inputs and outputs that deal with data in a specific online ecosystem. It might sound hard to decipher, but with a little help from your friendly neighbourhood cyber security experts, it’ll be crystal clear in no time.
The best example to properly explain what the IoT means for most people is a smart home, think of how an Alexa or Google Nest connects to devices around your home and can turn things on and off. Every device on this system is part of the Internet of Things. Even the little sensors around the house that pick up on temperature and light will count as part of the IoT. This can be expanded on for businesses, who can use an IoT to monitor all kinds of variables like temperature in storage containers, light levels in indoor farms and even the time spent at a desk by a workforce. That’s where the questions around IoT start to creep in. With so many devices monitoring around a house or a workplace, how can we guarantee privacy and security for all involved.
As usual, cyber security professionals have been hard at work already to try and batten down the IoT hatches against any possible breaches. The main issue is that every single separate “thing” within the Internet of Things represents a potential entry point that the pros have to take into account. While it might not seem important to make sure a thermostat is protected from cyber-attacks, it is the connection between the thermostat and the rest of the network that must be safeguarded. As always, the aim of the game is to minimise the risk posed to the network as a whole and with the IoT it’s just a lot more ground to cover. This goes double for businesses that make use of the IoT, as every staff member that has access to it is a source of potential risk.
We have to at some point weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of the IoT for each situation. Those who highly value their data privacy may be wary of it as concerns have been raised over the handling and storage of the data of private individuals. Governments and businesses have quite the dilemma on their hands, as consumer organisations push for some kind of regulation to be developed on what happens to this data. However, some of the savvier IoT users have also been taking control of how their data is collected and where that data goes. The hope is that as IoT technology becomes more mainstream, the accessibility will also grow and even those who have slightly less hands-on experience will be able to make informed decisions on their data.
The future for IoT does look bright, innovation in the field is currently looking very promising as experts are finding novel ways to use existing tools in the workplace and the home. More and more businesses are coming to understand that a system using an IoT can save massive amounts of time and energy, and most importantly, money. For the house, we might be a little while away from a fully AI controlled house like something out of Black Mirror. We are however, already at a point where some automated systems can become fairly commonplace over the next few years. A home assistant connected to the Internet is already a fairly common reality, and dimming bulbs, adjusting heating and automatically playing music are very real possibilities.
The important thing is that we balance the positives of an expanding IoT with the risks involved with more and more data being collected and stored. There, unfortunately, isn’t any way to develop a perfect defence against someone looking to break into an IoT, but it will be possible to find new ways of securing that ecosystem and those connections. The work has only just begun, but as society becomes more comfortable with the technology and experts deepen their understanding, we’re confident that a system that works for all can be developed.