Can you explain how the current vision of the Internet of Things (IoT) is different from the erstwhile industrial M2M applications?
Interestingly, the same question has spurred a lot of discussion on various forums, and has been addressed by different industry professionals in different ways. Some use both terms interchangeably, while others insist that they are different.
In my opinion, M2M was about connecting machines with other machines through network resources to monitor and control the ‘machine’ itself or the surrounding environment, while IoT is more about interacting with ‘things’ around us (where the ‘things’ could be machines, systems, people and even static non-intelligent objects) and augmenting such interactions with contexts such as geo-location, time and so on.
It could be about interacting with a book you are reading via QR codes or about finding more about a movie via NFC. A lot of people consider M2M to be a subset of IoT or as an enabler of IoT.
What do you think are the three main challenges in the way of the IoT’s growth?
While the ‘things’ are getting smarter, they are getting connected too (you can turn on the lights as you drive up to the house), and decisions are getting automated (shut down lights, A/C when no one is in the room). This connectivity allows full control remotely by the owner but at the same time brings in security risks that need to be addressed; also it is equally important that all of these devices need to be remotely managed. So, three important challenges would be to address connectivity, remote manageability and security.
Do you believe that mobile phone apps and the Cloud are central to the growth of the IoT? To what extent and for how long will these continue to bind the IoT together?
Monitoring and controlling ‘things’ in the connected world is very essential and a mobile app is one of the ways to enable that. Similarly, the purpose of connecting ‘things’ is to collect data and derive meaningful information out of them for making some smart decisions. With all the Big Data that will be generated by these millions or billions of devices, you will need a mechanism to store and process all of that.
The Cloud is definitely one of the best means to achieve that. So, mobile apps and the Cloud are very critical to the growth of the IoT. Mobile phones are ubiquitous today and using a mobile app is one of the easiest ways to support any human intervention required for monitoring and controlling. Likewise, the Cloud is the fastest and simplest way to set up an IoT infrastructure. Unless we find good alternatives to these, they will continue to be important to enable IoT.
IoT: The (w)hole story
Whether a filing cabinet, a PC or a mobile, security risks are always there. Just that millions of connected devices on immature platforms means more loopholes for breaking into your privacy, data and gosh wealth too! Here are some of the new security risks posed by the IoT era:
1. Many connected devices use chips with outdated operating systems (OS) and software, and hardly provide updates, mostly because the hardware might not support newer OS. End-users have no idea what OS their device is running and is therefore unable to judge how secure their device is.
2. While cameras are usually installed for security, sadly sometimes their own security is compromised, as in the case of TRENDnet, which sold cameras with faulty software that enabled private camera feeds to be viewed on the Internet by anybody who had the camera’s IP address! The case was resolved in the US early this year. There is even a search engine to find connected devices and cameras! Shodan enables you to search for devices, and thereafter one can watch the video captured or other data related to the device if it is insecure.
3. According to an article by a security specialist on Symantec’s official blog, several of LG’s new connected television models track user’s TV watching patterns and send the data back to the company, to customise advertising for customers. However, an error in the system caused the TVs to continue collecting data even when the feature was switched off, causing the company to work on a firmware update to correct this problem. Fortunately, in this case the company has been transparent in admitting the problem and developing a solution for it. In many cases, smaller manufacturers hardly bother about upgrades and patches to existing products!
4. The home router, which is the gateway between your connected devices and the outside world, is another key point of vulnerability. It is on almost 24×7, and it is important to secure it properly and to check for updates on the manufacturer’s site.
5. Many smart devices, including smart meters, do not usually send data directly to the service provider or utility. Often, it is collected at a local data collation hub (say, another smart meter) before being sent. This device is a point of vulnerability and needs to be properly secured by the service provider.
6. Data being collected constantly from thousands or even just hundreds of devices means Big Data, and is usually stored and processed on the Cloud by service providers, which makes the Cloud another potential candidate for cracking! This too needs to be secured.
Users need to be aware that everything from a connected toothbrush to an automobile can be cracked into—and there is value in the data collected from each for concerned parties. Hence, as the number of connected devices in your life burgeons, take an hour out once in a while to do a security audit, and perhaps install any updates or patches provided by manufacturers.
The author is a technically-qualified freelance writer, editor and hands-on mom based in Chennai