An oven that makes sure dinner’s hot by the time you get home. A fridge that reminds you that you’re out of milk. A doorbell that lets you check who’s at the door from your phone. The Internet of Things (IoT) has the potential to make our lives easier and more efficient than ever before. But what do we give up when we use these devices, and are they worth the cost?
IoT, or the Internet of Things, is an internet formed not between human users, but between interconnected devices that share data with each other. Once you embed a processor and a load of IoT sensors into a tool, machine or appliance, there are few limits to what it can do.
The concept of the IoT has been around for a while. In the 1980s, researchers at Carnegie Mellon had an internet-connected soda machine that they could check online to see if it had any drinks available before visiting it. However, interest in IoT devices has exploded. Smaller and more powerful processors and smartphone app integrations are making it possible.
Estimates say that by 2025 there will be 75 billion connected devices worldwide. IoT not only contributes to the technological innovations and economy, but it also carries severe cybersecurity risks that must be addressed. While companies that install IoT devices are aware about their vulnerabilities, regular users still lack the basic understanding of the potential harm IoT can cause.
The Internet of Things lets us control a wide range of devices, thus changing the ways we communicate with machines. It also saves time and money as you can receive and transmit data remotely.
IoT devices can remotely monitor medical equipment and patient vitals signs, send alerts to nurses, and even check the condition of prostheses.
Water, electricity, oil and gas industries are built on heavy infrastructure that is usually spread across the country. This includes thousands of pipes, valves, and meters that need to be monitored no matter what. Fortunately, some issues can be diagnosed or even predicted and prevented remotely using IoT devices.
One single router can allow you to track the bus' location, create a hotspot so the passengers could connect to the internet, and support a CCTV camera inside. Cars, trucks, trains, boats, even planes have IoT devices installed aboard.
Large factories run like clockwork, so it’s important to control every process and monitor the equipment. Be it a sawmill, frozen food factory, or a steal producer — they can all benefit from IoT.
ATMs, point of sales systems (POS), and vending machines are driven by IoT devices providing backup internet connectivity and monitoring.
IoT devices connect to the internet via GSM cellular networks, Wi-Fi, or ethernet. Let’s say you have a smart home system that allows you to remotely control temperature, monitor your surroundings, turn off the lights, feed your dog, and lock the door with your voice. The whole system is connected to a router that collects data and sends it to various servers. You can then access that data, get alerts, and send commands through your smartphone app.
The company that installed this system can manage thousands of houses around the country. Your router belongs to the company's network and its engineers can connect to it remotely.
They use remote management systems (IoT platforms) that allow them to change passwords, send SMS notifications, fix issues, update firmware, reboot, or extract data of hundreds of routers at once. While IoT platforms are really efficient to manage a large fleet of devices, the consequences in case of cyber incident would be colossal.
Right now, IoT devices are a perfect storm of cybersecurity vulnerability. Here’s why:
Even if your IoT device is totally secure, there’s another huge risk it might expose you to – privacy violations. These devices are notorious for harvesting data for their manufacturers. This data is ostensibly only used to improve their devices, but few companies will be able to resist the price that detailed user data could fetch.
Since IoT devices are part of huge infrastructures, the consequences in case of a hack could affect millions of people. Hackers could break into a power management system, for example, and leave an entire city without electricity.
How about the smart home industry? Imagine a stalker watching your family through your security camera or remotely unlocking your door. If your house is equipped with IoT devices, it means that somebody with the right skills can monitor your activities and exploit your home.
Even smartwatches aren’t reliable as they can trick patients into taking pills and cause health problems or even death.
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