IoT in a nutshell — The internet is all around you

IoT (Internet of Things)

What is IoT?

IoT. I’m sure you’ve heard of it, but you’re probably not aware of it. Even as you are unaware of it, it is quite literally everywhere. In your home, in your workplace, in your favorite recreational spaces. It’s present during your commutes, while you drive, while you cook, even while you watch TV. It’s even as so recently cleaning your floor. So what is it, and what does IoT stand for?

IoT stands for “Internet of Things”, and it is quite literally that, the internet of “things”. What “things” you might ask? All things. From your cellphone to your TV to your air conditioner to your car to your refrigerator to your drone to your work Alexa and so on and so forth.
It’s a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, and living beings. All the aforementioned are assigned a UID and have the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring person to person or person to computer interaction. Essentially, they are man-made or natural objects that can be assigned an IP address and are able to transfer data over a network. This generally equates to a network of web-enabled smart devices that use processors, sensors and communication hardware to send, collect, and respond to data within their environments. These devices can operate locally, interact with devices near them or through the network. Some are independent and others rely on information gathered by others to perform tasks. These devices are set up in a manner where most of the work is done independent of human intervention. You could say their efficiency is based on how these devices are essentially automated, whether that function is a task or to collect data.

How do IoT devices work?

IoT devices simply work by connecting through the internet via the IoT cloud. Aside from the simple manual set up that a human may have to perform to setup a device, there is not much else to be done after that aside from letting the device perform its intended function.

IoT devices can also communicate with each other through what is known as an IoT gateway. An IoT gateway is a physical device or virtual platform that connects sensors, IoT modules, and smart devices to the cloud. They serve as a wireless access portal to give IoT devices access to the internet. Aside from connecting to the cloud, gateways also connect devices to one another, translate data between IoT devices (in the case data must be translated), filtering data, mitigating sefcurity risks, and what is known as “Intelligence at the edge” (This is essentially the capture of data as close as possible to the source, eg. an IoT gateway performs this function rather than doing the same data processing after the data is sent to an IoT cloud.)

Example of an IoT Gateway (Taken from MultiTech)

IoT Gateways provide many advantages like these. IoT gateways are like “universal remotes”. It allows for devices to be programmed to work together. It functions as a centralized hub where data is communicated to and from devices. The communication comes from other devices and the cloud. In the long run, as you add more IoT devices, this will help facilitate their use as all communication will have a central point rather than several individual connections.
Translating between devices is a definite advantage. Imagine not being able to communicate between devices simply because they were manufactured by different companies or operate different tasks. The gateway will take care of that for you. Again, the more devices, the more useful the hub.
Data filtering should be self explanatory, it filters data so as to simply communication between devices. Considering how AI and machine learning are common concepts employed in the IoT space, providing the necessary data can be a huge improvement to the IoT framework.

Security

Now for the elephant in the room, security. We’ve all heard the classic example of smart cars going rogue and hackers listening in over WiFi baby monitors. Now, all IoT devices are suspect to hacking, especially where in there lies a lack of human support. These devices are often left to fend for themselves. The gateway can add that extra layer of security to feel secure as it stands between the internet and the device. That notwithstanding, we cannot say it is bulletproof.
IoT devices are very accessible and are becoming increasingly common with everyday. Whether it be upgrading a smart home or an entertainment system, more and more people are adding to their own IoT.
It is well accepted that there has been lack of industry foresight and a lack of standardization that contributes to the security concerns of IoT devices.

As mentioned before, many of these devices are stand alone towards attacks because they lack the computational capacity for built-in security. This leaves many of these devices vulnerable, subject to malware, cyber attacks, information theft, and mismanagement. While a home user may not necessarily be immediately worried about these types of situations, companies, growing start ups and more industrial sectors that depend on IoTs most definitely want to avoid these possible vulnerabilities. These attacks can have serious consequences depending on how integrated the IoT system is. It can be as dismissive as a TV malfunction to an attack on hospital systems or large companies. IoT’s are increasingly becoming an important part of several sectors in our society and thus must be kept safe. There are several ways to maintain the IoT safe such as AoT (admins), regular patches and updates, Wi-Fi secuirty, monitor network and device behavior, network segmentation, secure networks, secure IoT clouds, security tools, IoT protocols, and secure GPS use. These are some examples, a more in-depth look can be found in this article here.

Privacy

Privacy is always a touchy subject. At times it seems that you have to relinquish a certain amount of it if you want to enjoy certain devices and products. By the sheer amount of data being generated at this point in time, there will definitely have to be a conversation of this in the near future. This creates vulnerabilities in places we didn’t have before. Can a roomba be hacked to figure out the inner layout of a home? Is an Alexa a listen in device? Can hacking a thermometer really pose useful? Sensitive information, unwanted data profiles, eavesdropping all lead to issues with consumer confidence. Is it really worthwhile for simple luxuries and quality of life improvements? Not everyone is ready to relinquish into the new age of internet integration, this extended reality, quality of technological life improvements.

IoT Concerns from Libelium

Implications for the future

IoT is growing and it has no signs of stopping. IoT is growing exponentially every year. Right now we have around 11 billion IoT devices in place. This will no doubt cease and only grow. It is reality that we have to come to terms with, and something we need to accept as a new norm in our tech-enhanced lives.
Along with new technologies, come risks. It is no doubt that IoT devices are on the surface the easiest to compromise and in the future security risks will always be present. Cyber criminals will never cease to exists and we continue to grow over into the internet itself. DDoS attacks will become more common place and security measure will have to improve no doubt. The fact that IoT things can quite literally be anything sure doesn’t help. From security cameras to your Smart TV, everything will have to be protected.

What started as smart phones, into smart TV’s and then the smart home, smart office. Soon we will be looking at smart cities. It’s a bit far off but not as far off as it seems. Lyft bike rentals are a good example of how this is already taking place. Soon, other areas will be automated or remotely managed. Data will be collected anonymously and possibly even taxis could be automated at some point. It’s definitely a wild projection.

Many IoT devices work with AI and machine learning. They collect data mostly on patterns and create algorithms and preferences catered to your likes or needs. Simple examples include music recommendations from Spotify or series recommendations from Netflix. But this can expand from simple applications to your home AC, coffee maker, shower, lighting system, etc.

Technological Advances

5G. Yep. The famous 5G. Faster networks, better connectivity, more devices, more data. IoT will only benefit from better technologies, 5G being a big one. This will allow more data gathering, faster analysis, and faster data management. It will also allow for IoT frameworks to grow further than what they are. Routers and gateways will also improve in suit to provide better functionality and communication. Cars will absolutely get smarter with faster speeds, so maybe those smart cities might be closer than we thought.
With 5G we have yet to see the potential security risks, but they will certainly arise. 5G poses its own problems in that sector but that is an entirely different subject on its own.

Whether you want it or not, it’s already here, and it isn’t going anywhere. The best we can do is read up, educate ourselves on the pros and cons, and be ready for the inevitable transition. One day my watch may be hacked and someone will DDoS me with my refrigerator, but if my car can drive me around by voice commands, that’ll be a pretty cool thing to look forward to.

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