All the hype surrounding the Internet of Things has me worried. First of all, its my opinion that the motivation behind the IoT is not necessarily to our benefit. Call me a skeptic, but as I see it, like snake oil, we’re being sold on the notion that the IoT is the cure for everything. I compare it to the Smart Grid, which while more complex and involves more security and bureaucracy than the IoT does so far, seems to exist to the benefit of the utility companies’ bottom lines rather than you or me. I’m also concerned that connecting everything and everyone will turn into a field day for hackers, giving them access to everything from the local wastewater treatment plant to your refrigerator, not to mention all the personal information on usage habits made available to third parties. Lest you think I’m over-reacting, let me assure you that I’m not the only one on the planet concerned about this.

Take, for example, the hackers who target point-of-sale systems. At a recent public FBI briefing, the following was said: “Cyber criminals continue to deploy Point of Sale (PoS) malware due to the substantial number of targets connected to the Internet and potential high financial gain. In the past year, there has been a recent influx of casinos, hotels, and resorts being targeting by PoS
malware. Cyber criminals are infecting victim networks to extract credit card information and quickly monetize it within cyber criminal forums.” Just imagine what these guys are planning to do with more IoT? It’s going to take sophisticated and careful planning to avoid issues like this with IoT connected systems and infrastructure.

Another fantastic article was recently published in the UK about how the IoT is great until it blows up your house. This underscores the need for security and offers some potential solutions about how Bitcoin can help. The writer poses some examples of how a connected home can be hacked. For example, the unsuspecting homeowner sees the advantage of connecting the gas oven to a smartphone so that it can “read” recipes and set perfect baking times. But if a hacker gets control of said connected oven, well – read I recommend reading the article for the gory details.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the IoT. It has the potential to do a lot of good. Take for example, this recent post in EDN about an IoT application that could help solve the current bee crisis that is affecting 100 food crops the North America and Europe. According to the article, “a network-connected “smart beehive frame” that replaces a traditional frame in a commercial beehive has been developed. The “MiteNot” frame provides sensors and a heater element that communicate through a gateway to an application on the network. The sensors feed information to the application, which in turn commands the heater to protect the hive from infestation. One frame can protect an entire hive and one gateway can support the apiary’s whole hive collection.”

According to the most recent Gartner Hype Cycle, the IoT has reached the peak of inflated expectations.

Courtesy of Gartner

Will concerns about security cause it to get stuck in the trough of disillusionment? How do we build a secure IoT that improves society rather than exposing us to potential risks and dangers?

I believe the challenges for the IoT are mostly software related and could be overcome through security encryption that makes the systems accessible via authorization. Atmel’s company blog features an excellent video from a recent conference that addresses this topic. It will take careful methodical design to secure these systems such that they are beneficial and not misused by unauthorized people.

Additionally, just this week, Samsung announced development of a range of printed circuit boards (PCBs) and associated software under the name Artik to support the development of applications for wearable equipment and the Internet of Things (IoT). According to this article by Peter Clarke, in IHS Electronics, all three boards have secure element processing, which makes them resistant to hackers, however it also might pose a challenge for the developers.

History shows that the industry will commoditize the hardware associated with the IoT, because the consumer won’t want to pay a premium for say, an IoT enabled vacuum. However, they will pay for the data package to automatically order more replacement filters when the vacuum calls the mother ship to tell it to send more. If I were a betting man, I would put my money on the software companies involved with it all.

There are financial opportunities in developing the software to secure the data and keep nefarious users at bay. I can also envision service contracts for data used to communicate with your connected appliances. But keeping someone from turning on the oven and burning up your house or hacking into your account and telling someone you have consumed 14 metric tons of toast and need to order more artisanal bread from the bakery in Oregon; that’s where i believe the money is in this.

The technical aspects from hardware and SOME software perspectives are not the challenge to realizing 30B connected devices by 2020. I believe we need to get beyond the hype of what the IoT offers, and how much money can be made from it, and instead focus on making the IoT secure for all. ~ K.P.

Kevin Parmenter

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