What Is the Internet of Things IoT and How Secure Is It

The “Internet of Things” (or “IoT”) essentially consists of devices with an Internet connection that can collect, process, and share information with each other through wired or wireless networks.

Apr 19 2021 | articles

Internet of Things (IoT)

While this is a broad term to think about, you can think about it in the sense that, well, it allows objects to talk to each other. In fact, it is most commonly made of devices, from sensors to smartphones, wearables, even your toaster at home, as long as they are connected together in some way, well, they make up the internet of things.

  • IoT Devices are Everyday Devices You Wouldn't Normally Expect to Have an Internet Connection
  • IoT Devices Are Used to Collect and Share Data of Some Kind
  • While IoT Devices provide Convenience, They Have Security and Privacy Concerns
  • By Rough Estimation There Were a Total of 20.6 Billion IoT Devices as of 2020

Now, the true "magic" comes when you combine all of these devices through automation, which makes it possible to get a lot of information and create action out of them.

You can think of the Internet of Things (IoT) in three main aspects:

  • Networks
  • Devices
  • Data

This is due to the fact that IoT allows devices, which are connected to a network, to communicate with one another. This brings a whole new dimension to the type of functionality they can serve, specifically within a home.

In our current day and age, where just about anything can be classified as a "smart" device, there are literally billions upon billions of physical devices across the globe that are connected online, and all of them collect and share data.

These devices' beauty comes in the fact that they all have some kind of micro-chip attached to them, which gives them smart functionality. In other words, each and every device out there, from something that you can swallow such as a pill, to some of the biggest vehicles in the world, can be classified as the Internet of Things (IoT) devices, as long as they have some sort of digital intelligence associated with them. This chip, or device, needs to connect to the internet and communicate the data in real-time without a person's involvement.

How Useful Are IoT Devices?

The most common types of IoT devices you'll probably see in your everyday life include humidity sensors, or sensors of any kind really. You see, throughout the early stages of that technology, it would collect data, where a person would have to physically go near the device to review it and collect it. Now, through Wi-Fi or Mobile Data connected to a SIM card within the device, we can wirelessly monitor just about everything, that even connects to a smartphone.

Let's look at another example, maybe one you could use at home. Imagine that, at the moment you arrive at your home, and you open your front door, your phone connects to your Wi-Fi after an interval of over 8 hours, now, this pushes a chain of events, where your stove turns on automatically, your frozen food gets defrosted slowly in your fridge, and the lights as well as TV's in your home turn on automatically, so all you have to do is walk and start cooking. This is what a smart home feels like, and all of this is made possible through the Internet of Things.

Now, keep in mind that this term is typically used for devices, that, well, you don't really expect to have an internet connection, so smartphones, laptops, or PCs don't really fall under this category.

The History of IoT Devices

By its official definition, and we're quoting here, the IoT is essentially comprised of "Sensors and actuators embedded in physical objects are linked through wired and wireless networks".

There you have it, if you end up getting an A on your school project, thank me later.

Anyway, while the term Internet of Things isn't really that old, the idea behind it has been around for a very long time. Have you ever seen a bond movie from the 70s? The idea for them has always been there. However, throughout this time, it was known as the embedded internet, or pervasive computing.

The term itself was coined by a person named Kevin Ashton in 1999, where he worked at Procet&Gamble. He was essentially just working supply chain optimization and wanted to attract some attention to a new technology known as RFID, and because the internet was hot in 1999, he called his presentation "Internet of Things". The interesting part about all of this? It only became popular 10 years later.

In fact, IoT can be traced back to 2010, where information had leaked of Google's Street View service, which not only made 360-degree pictures but stored data of people's Wi-Fi networks. Now, RFID tags, which are just low-power chips that can communicate wirelessly, solved many issues when it came to connecting devices, and increased the availability of broadband internet and cellular and wireless networking.

And what did this technology initially do? Well, RFID tags were just attached to expensive equipment in order to help track their location. The best part about all of this is that, in today's day and age, the potential cost of this basic functionality of just connecting something to the internet has the possibility of costing only 10 cents. Imagine a world where just about everything is connected to the internet, including your jacket, keys, shoelaces, you name it.

How Many IoT Devices Currently In Use?

To answer your question, by rough estimations, there were a total of 20.6 billion IoT-connected devices in 2020.

From smart home appliances to wearables, connected cars, industrial internet, smart cities, agriculture, retail, energy management, healthcare, and farming, IoT is everywhere and anywhere.

In fact, tech analysts predict that there will be 41.6 billion IoT-connected devices by 2025.

This is mainly due to the fact that manufacturers are starting to add sensors to the components of many products, just so they can transmit data back about how they are performing, and this, in turn, helps companies know when a component might fail, and swap it out before it causes major damage. Some companies even use this data to make their systems as well as supply chains a lot more efficient, due to the level of accuracy they are gaining from the data itself.

What are the Business Benefits of IoT?

This depends on the implementation of the technology.

Enterprises are ideally striving to have as much data as possible about their products as well as their internal systems, as this can lead to better changes. In terms of IoT devices' enterprise-specific use, this can be divided into industry-specific offerings and real-time location devices.

Now, without getting too technical, the main benefits that IoT devices can provide to a business include:

  • Provide New Business Opportunities
  • Cost-Effectiveness
  • An Improvement in the Utilization and Maintenance of Assets
  • Enhanced Customer Service and Overall Experience
  • Real-Time Analytics on Just About Anything
  • Workplace Safety
  • An Increase in Overall Productivity
  • Better Understanding of How Customers Behave
  • Data Through Which Businesses Can Make Historical Analysis
  • Quality Control
  • Beacons
  • Packaging Optimizations
  • Supply Chain and Logistics Improvements

What Are the Customer Benefits of IoT?

There have been numerous implementations of IoT devices in the real world that have helped customers on a massive scale.

If you remember our previous example, IoT essentially makes everything around us, smart. You have tools such as Amazon's Alexa, and even Google Nest, which makes it a lot easier for you to create timers, play music or get your other smart devices to do certain actions. There are even home security systems that can potentially monitor what's inside and outside of your home, inform you if any movement occurs through a notification on your smartphone, and record everything.

There are even AC's out there or thermostats that can automatically power on when you are near your home, so It's all nice and warm the moment you arrive, and you do not waste any energy by leaving them on even when you are outside.

There are also wearable sensors that can measure our pulse and heart rate, and help us maintain as much of our health as possible throughout the generation of data daily, weekly, or monthly.

Are IoT Devices Safe, Secure, and Private?

Now comes the part that a lot of people like to discuss when talking about IoT, and this is their security, as well as their privacy.

This is due to the fact that most of these devices can collect sensitive data. Just think about it for a second, Amazon's Alexa can potentially hear everything you say in your home. Would you really want someone to compromise the security of that device and hear everything you talk about in the comfort and privacy of your home?

Flaws such as these have left home devices open to hacks, and around 100.000 webcams exist out there that could easily be hacked. To combat this, many governments have even issued out their own guidelines when it comes to the security of IoT devices.

In other words, each device needs to have its own unique password, and companies need to provide a public point of contact so that anyone can have the ability to report a vulnerability within the device. Manufacturers also have to state for how long certain devices will get security updates.

Now, given the fact that these devices can become a lot cheaper to develop, we could see widespread issues in terms of security.

IoT devices can be seen as a bridge between our digital world and our physical world, and this means that hacking into these devices could have dangerous real-world consequences. Think about it, what if someone hacks your webcam, records you doing everything, or hacks your smart speaker with a built-in microphone and records everything you say?

Another concern is the fact that all of these sensors connect some kind of data. If you have a smartphone, someone who compromises these devices' security can get detailed information about when you wake up, when your coffee machine starts working, when you brush your teeth, what songs you listen to, and what you eat.

Combine this with a weekly, or monthly loop, and hackers and potential thieves have all of the information they need in order to enter your home at the perfect time, bypass the alarm and camera, and steal whatever they can.

Mass Adoption of IoT

So far, you've learned about what the Internet of Things (IoT) is, how it works, and what kind of risks it has. But so far, things might have seemed a bit, scary, haven't they?\ What if you knew that this is the case for just about any device out there?

Think about it, your smartphone is with you wherever you go, it listens to you, knows what you search for, what you photograph, and how long you use it. If it were to be compromised, your privacy would be at risk, and yet you use it every day.

This is simply the truth about every technology, but we choose to live with it and put our trust in the companies who develop the devices.

That device also gives you a high level of convenience, as you can find everything you need quickly through maps, get informed about the weather, listen to music anywhere, photograph anything, and a plethora of other useful features. IoT devices let you collect data, connect your smartphone, monitor your health and help you remain healthy, and just genuinely make you feel like you are part of the future.

Cybersecurity and data privacy are major concerns when considering mass adoption of IoT and the information shared by IoT devices.

IoT devices have been around for quite a long time, and since they are becoming more affordable by the day, there will come a point in time where just about every device out there will be an IoT device in some way.

The mass adoption of IoT devices is imminent, are you ready for it?