Securing the Internet of Things

The world is rapidly moving onto the next big thing, not social this time, but physical – the Internet of Things (IoT). In the world of IoT, many more physical objects will be interconnected, and connected to the internet, sending and receiving information. The physical world is becoming an interconnected information system, creating a hyper-connected future.

Smart phones are already an integral part of our lives. With the Internet of Things, just about every object becomes smart. We’ve already seen the advent of smart glasses with the introduction of Google Glass. Just about every object is to join this connected world – personal devices, products, vehicles, homes, offices, and whole cities, interconnected and sharing information. As the prices of the hardware components required for this hyper-connectedness come down, it is producing an explosion of data sharing. Predictions indicate that by 2015, over 6.5 billion devices will be connected to the internet. Some say that this will rise to 50 billion devices by 2020.

Personal exercise equipment is one of the first niches to join the Internet of Things – the wrist-worn Nike Fuel Band records and uploads our physical activity during the day, an exercise treadmill, exercycle, and rowing machine are all connected to the internet so that we can train in a virtual environment and compete in real time against others around the world.

The Internet of Things will reach inside our bodies as well. A tattoo can monitor vital signs and has been discussed for identification purposes. For those of us not wanting a tattoo, then how about a swallowable computer? Freescale have produced a microcontroller unit measuring only 1.9mm X 2mm – easily small enough to swallow. It has 32k of flash memory, 4k of RAM and a 32-bit processor. It can travel through the digestive tract and be used to monitor internal health or release medicine internally. Connected IoT heart monitors can be programmed to automatically call emergency services if heart rate goes beyond predetermined parameters.

In the home, our heating/air conditioning can be connected to the IoT. So too the refrigerator (to automatically re-order when supplies run low), the toaster (timing toast with the egg maker), audio and TV equipment, expresso maker, home plumbing can warn when a leak appears, etc.

Cars can be packed with multiple sensors. Authorities can be automatically notified if the speed limit is exceeded, or the driver sends a text message. On the farm, the irrigation system can be activated according to information from multiple sensors sending information about soil conditions, and a robotic harvester operate automatically. In the city, billboards can vary their information display depending upon the nearby audience.

Sensors embedded into just about everything (such as the shoes and clothing we wear, and items in store) will send information. ARM designs the chips that go into objects – light-weight, low-powered processors. Generally the idea is to have minimum processing in the object, and to do all the heavy processing and data storage in the cloud. Big data analytics will come into its own with all this data.

Interconnectedness is via the internet or by means of Machine-to-Machine protocols (M2M). Connectivity technology includes Wi-Fi, 4G, NFC, Bluetooth, infrared. The smart phone will play a central hub role in much Internet of Things connectivity.

Android is currently the operating system driving the Internet of Things.

Because the IoT relies on internet connection, Google reportedly is looking at using balloons or blimps to provide connection in remote areas.

As more and more objects and devices are connected there are obvious significant privacy issues arising. Security is also a vital issue. DARPA have shown how our car can be taken over remotely while we are driving, and an attacker able to do everything but steer. Just as we are currently monitored by websites we visit, so too the Internet of Things will monitor our physical presence through geo-location technology as we move around the physical world. Combined with face recognition technology, more people will know more and more about our whereabouts and physical activities. Preventing identity theft will become an even greater issue, as devices communicate various aspects that indicate our identity.

The Internet of Things is already here and is set to explode in terms of the number of objects involved. It promises to be an area of major change with its own challenges in the near- and medium- term.

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