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What Is the “Internet of Things” and What Will Be Its Consequences?

Fortune magazine describes the Internet of Things as a communications revolution consisting of “billions of devices – sensors, thermostats, lighting, appliances, security systems, health devices, cars and much more” – all connected wirelessly. It is this and much more.

The “Internet of Things” is a vastly expanded web of wireless electronic devices that is set to transform the way we live. Businesses would be able to save labor costs and increase organizational efficiency. Many of the effects could be good.

But does the general public fully understand the consequences? Should the Internet of Things be a big concern? Let’s consider the use of an infinite number of embedded electronic equipment.

Many people, for example, are aware that sensor technology is being used to remotely read electrical power meters on our homes and other control devices. The power company merely drives by in close proximity to the homes of its electrical customers and “reads” the wireless signal being broadcast from the digital meter. Your bill is then prepared based upon the data being broadcast by meters. Time is saved.

But how much do we know about the remote sensing devices being deployed? A number of facts we know for sure. The new IPV6 (Internet address system) will allow for an infinite number of Internet devices to be assigned addresses. We can count on billions of new devices to be deployed. Thousands of specialized devices are being invented. We have, in all likelihood, yet to image what is on the horizon.

Some of the uses for remote active monitoring, however, will be bad and further erode our vanishing privacy. For example, do we really want activities and movements in our homes to be “watched” by electronic sensors, connected to the Internet, to collect and report the data to the “gatherers”? One television manufacturer is now including a privacy warning on its latest smart television because the product records conversations for voice recognition and can be “hacked”.

We already know that everything on the Internet can be “cracked” and utilized by individuals for nefarious purposes. The amount of money lost as a result of cybercrime is now equal in size to the illicit global drug trade. Expanded interconnectedness of sensor arrays that announce their presence and broadcast confidential information is only going to increase the incidents of cybercrime.

People who are responsible for information assurance (maintaining the confidentiality, integrity and availability of information) will face major challenges. For example, each device and its software (including instructions that are ‘hard-wired’ into the device) must be thoroughly vetted in favor of information security.

One Defense Department official said, “Do you think those people who will be putting sensors in your connected refrigerator are going to make information security one of their big concerns? I don’t think so.” This one statement outlines the problems. We simply don’t know how many thousands of sensor devices will be deployed, into what devices and what ‘they’ have been told to do and where the data will be stored and under what conditions it can be utilized.

The Internet of Things is very likely to increase speed, efficiency and productivity. Savings will occur. Efficiencies will increase. Sensors would free-up humans from routine monitoring tasks and allow for more productive activity. However, the very same technology is destined to deliver unimaginable information security challenges.

What can we do? People must be aware of the potential consequences of linking sensor agents to the Web. That’s a start. We must consider ourselves forewarned. Doing so is a step in the right direction because the genie is out of the bottle.

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