Why We Should Temper Our Optimism About IoT

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As technology advances, the demand for more of it increases. We live in a world where it is difficult to satiate the thirst for convenience and simplicity. In the quest to advance modernity to a level where everything can do anything, we’ve moved towards creating a new layer of the internet occupied by devices properly named the Internet of Things (IoT).

IoT has made our lives a whole lot easier by introducing a variety of new ways for devices to stay “connected” and communicate with each other, getting us to a point where we can even automate some of their tasks through certain platforms in the cloud as opposed to programming them manually. While one cannot deny that IoT has made everything convenient, we have to take off our rose-tinted glasses and spot some of the concerns we need to address before we move forward and put it in anything and everything (up to and including our toasters).

Our Lives Are Depending On Technology That Is Still Vulnerable

Towards the end of May 2014, a game called Watch Dogs was released by Ubisoft, in which the protagonist–a clever hacker who sought revenge for the death of his niece–would use his skills to override a lot of the fail safes around the city. The hacker was able to steal vehicles, hack pacemakers to assassinate people, and even affect traffic lights around the city.

This concept may have sounded silly back in the early 2000s, but if we are not careful with our implementation of IoT, we might as well end up living in a reality where all if this is possible.

IoT not only has vulnerabilities in connected vehicles like the 2014 Jeep Cherokee; it also potentially extends all the way up to connected medical devices like pacemakers and defibrillators. Self-driving vehicles have even been known to be fooled by simple visual tricks like changing the look of a stop sign so that the car interprets it as a speed limit sign. If we are not careful, our efforts in automation will present more problems than they solve.

IoT And Privacy Are Still Not A Great Combination

The promises that IoT has brought to the table included the arrival of a new era of data collection. It’s been an ever-present part of the development process for devices that businesses use on a daily basis and has largely been successful at delivering on that promise. We forgot, however, about privacy. Since many devices that collect data also store them locally for remote access, they remain about as vulnerable as a laptop left behind at a coffee shop.

At the consumer level, we are seeing companies like Samsung warning their customers not to divulge any sensitive information near their connected devices because someone could be sniffing the traffic and hearing the conversation remotely, as clearly as if they’d be a participant. The most obvious solution to this problem is to concentrate on protecting data after it’s collected while not ignoring the importance of the data mining process in the first place.

Upgrading Is Still A Headache

The vast majority of IoT devices aren’t that complicated. Typically, it’s a printed circuit board inserted somewhere into a device that didn’t have one a few decades ago. But what if the PCB is outdated? Do you still get updates? What should be the appropriate support life cycle for the hardware?

Since most IoT devices aren’t modular, you can’t just switch one piece of hardware for another like you would in a desktop computer. You typically need to buy a whole new device, like you would when your smartphone is outdated. This lack of modular hardware means that there is a limited validity period for each piece of technology you purchase, and you’ll have to take that into account when calculating its return on investment. Once support ends for one particular piece of hardware, you’re left behind and vulnerable. The more you keep a device around after it’s no longer supported, the more likely it is that it will be exploited by a hacker trying to siphon data off of it.

It’s unlikely that most IoT devices will be modular (simply because it is either unfeasible or unaesthetic in certain situations) but that doesn’t mean we cannot do a better job of future-proofing our hardware and extending support for businesses that depend heavily on IoT for their bottom lines.

The Takeaway

While all of this may have sounded like a bunch of “doom and gloom”, it’s important to note that IoT is still not an extraordinarily mature technology. The silver lining is that manufacturers are all very aware of all these problems and have been working on fixing them to the best of their abilities. At some point, we can expect tightly-secured, future-proof, and privacy-oriented hardware that responds not only to the demands of a convenience-driven economy but also to its need for hardened technologies.

About the Author

Sheza Gary is a technical director at Algoworks, a global IT service provider which operates chiefly in United States from its California office. She was previously a technical manager at CloudGenix. Sheza has a MBA from California State University, Northridge and a bachelor’s from Boston University.


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