18 billion devices were connected to the internet in 2018. That’s equivalent to roughly two devices per human on the planet. Now washing machines, refrigerators, headphones, smart AI devices, and among other things join our cell phones on the world wide web. Which such a dramatic increase in smart technology, what are the effects on the populous?
The Skinny on IOT
The world has seen an explosion of technology since the first version of Microsoft Windows in 1985. Arguably so, Windows acted as a precursor to IOT, as the first devices connected to the web happened in 1982 with Coca Cola vending machines that regulated temperature and counted inventory (Source). Equally important, a new change in 1997 would allow for wireless packet transfer; WIFI technology would usher in a connection like nothing before. That connection does not just include people. The inclusion, which grows daily, links everything from appliances to lighting and much more. Coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton, the phrase “Internet of Things” (IOT) would soon become a household buzz word (Source). Ten short years later, that phrase is still living up to its name, with estimates approximately at 18 billion connected devices in 2018. That’s equivalent to roughly two devices per human on the planet. A decline in processor prices aided the market’s ability to make just about anything imaginable into a thing on the internet. Now washing machines, refrigerators, headphones, smart AI devices and many others join our cell phones on the world wide web. In conjunction, components within components in commercial and industrial equipment are connected. With such a dramatic increase in smart technology, what are the effects on the populous?
As previously mentioned, the IOT works primarily with WIFI connections. Nevertheless, several options allow the growing trend of IOT devices to connect. Other methods include Bluetooth, Ethernet, LTE, and satellite. The wide array of connection types leaves an exceptional perception that security is particularly jeopardized (Source). With such a wide landscape of connectivity, the IOT is noticeably everywhere; Critical Infrastructure, agriculture, Point of Sale (POS) systems, and Commercial building controls are just a tiny portion of a long list of systems that connect to the internet. An IOT appliance may use device to device (D2D), device to gateway, gateway to data systems, and between data systems (Source). Drilling down on the unique IOT connection determines what works best for a specific device. Beyond these simple connections, the IOT networks range from wide area networks (WAN), which span large geographical areas, to nano networks sized in micrometers. While not currently isolated to 5G networks, the future of the IOT seems to be moving in that direction, and currently uses many other connection aspects.
The Good & Bad
Most any technological marvel comes with its pros and cons, and the IOT is no different. Some of the pros include the aspect that “everything is connected” (i.e. more opportunity, more convenience), increased productivity, and increased quality of life. This is certainly not a conclusive listing. Proponents indicate that optimal use of energy and resources is achieved when delivering cost savings; others state reliability in decision-making processes posed by instant data access leads to optimal use (Source). Oppositely, the cons can be defined as everything is connected (i.e. easily hackable), an expansive attack surface, and an ability to introduce large disruptions, damage, and cascading effects (possibly deaths) especially related to Critical Infrastructure. It is not difficult to see how IOT could soon impact the unskilled labor force negatively with added automation. Likewise, issues such as technological dependency that might affect human society, therefore creating a loss of simple social and critical thinking skills, are probable. Another issue could be a lack of an international standard of compatibility, causing device communication issues (Source). Understandably, there are aspects that could create an advanced perception where pros and cons are not properly addressed.
The history of the Internet is shrouded with issues that relate to security. A new vulnerability or breach is reported almost daily. Adversaries of the United States can endanger Critical Infrastructure and the extended environment of the IOT as stated by the Intelligence community (Source). Interdependencies of Critical Infrastructure implement an additional layer of unease. The data collected by IOT devices is enormous in volume and the problems they could create for companies could be exponential (Source). The issues of data collection equate to a whole cornucopia of problems in the homes of individuals. All these issues are compounded when the issue of patching capability is unavailable, and the knowledge that hackers now actively target IOT devices (Source). The security community realizes the exigent need to provide authorization and authentication for connected devices; these devices are riddled with default passwords and weak password requirements (Source). Other potential issues stem from communication protocols, lack of encryption methodology, and non-existent integrity potential. Security is noticeably a forefront problem for the IOT and those problems occur daily.
While security and quality issues raise eyebrows for society, privacy garners an exceptional partition of this spectrum of challenges with the IOT. Devices associated with the IOT use sensors that collect data on everything a person does (Source). It is easy to start feeling violated. “Take the smart home: it can tell when you wake up (when the smart coffee machine is activated) and how well you brush your teeth (thanks to your smart toothbrush), what radio station you listen to (thanks to your smart speaker), what type of food you eat (thanks to your smart oven or fridge), what your children think (thanks to their smart toys), and who visits you and passes by your house (thanks to your smart doorbell) (Source).” Users usually enter plenty of personal identifiable information (PII) and possible social media account details per requests from IOT devices. The proliferation of devices since the last holiday season, along with the minimal control we have on them, creates a feeling in some cybersecurity community members that they might be in the wild, wild west (Source). The qualitative and security problems have the attention of the populace.
The Future with IOT
With the bells and whistles perpetuated by smart technology and the IOT, in conjunction with the degradative issues that are apparent, there is division on what the future holds. The exponential growth of the IOT is obvious. Estimates place device numbers over 21 billion by 2025 (Source). That’s an increase of approximately 4 billion devices, or 1 billion devices per year at current numbers. With an increase in connected devices, it is easy to discern increased cybercrime. IOT devices are geared on artificial intelligence (AI) to enable these devices to implement optimum usage patterns (Source). More concentrated code development directed toward AI will assist in the further development of AI. Additionally, secondary network appliances (i.e. routers) and, on a larger scale, even cities will become smarter. The advance of 5G networks will fuel the advance of the IOT (Source). The spring in devices, as well as the gradual decrease in monitoring capability of IOT control due to 5G, will propagate a new generation of more dangerous botnets. 5G IOT devices can connect directly to the provider network, bypassing the router, and trending toward devices more vulnerable to direct attacks (Source).The security and privacy problems may push legislative interest. The thought is that such perspective could introduce more effective individual control over a person’s IOT data (Source). The details surrounding the IOT and smart technology have expansive divisive assessments.
What it Means
Many thoughts and conclusions are produced by the arrival of IOT. The IOT has ushered in an explosion of technology filled with gadgets that have a concentration of joy and woes. IOT ushers in technology that promotes efficiency, convenience, an increase in life quality and cost savings. Conjunctively, the same technology opens the attack surface-hacking opportunities, further endangers the critical infrastructure, and potentially reduces the job market for unskilled laborers. The greatest of security concerns is the added abilities to disrupt the nation’s critical infrastructure. The volume of data collection and inability to correct security deficiencies is also troublesome. Even more alarming is the potential PII and social media account details that are at risk. Lack of control over these devices adds more concern. The growth of the IOT is not slowing. Cyber crime potential is increased exponentially by the upsurge of added devices. Technological advancement in the field of artificial intelligence will likely be bolstered. Devices that were once viewed as simple will have a more significant relevance in personal lives. Cities will take on their own intelligence. Better networks will fuel the rapid explosion of IOT. Larger scale botnets that feed on IOT devices will present new distributed denial of service challenges. Laws to improve personal data privacy control will become paramount. In short, what it means is that the IOT can be tech that smarts or smart technology.