Turning even the most mundane household objects into connected devices via the Internet of Things is not without its setbacks. From the telecommunications standpoint, bandwidth will be a huge issue, as more and more "things" burden networks. Developers will be challenged to find valuable use cases, choose reliable APIs and identify innovative ways to streamline machine-to-machine communication.
While all of these are valid hurdles that many IoT leaders have already begun to clear, the biggest obstacle is currently – and will continue to be – cyber security.
Everyone's things will know everything about them
By 2016, Gartner predicts that the number of connected devices will reach 6.4 billion, up 30 percent from 2015. IDC projects that this number will more than quadruple by 2020, reaching 28.1 billion total IoT units. Any conceivable object will become an Internet-connected device: desk lamps, washing machines, refrigerators, garage doors, blenders, cars, jewelry, clothing, devices that predict bowel movements and much more. Some of these use cases may sound frivolous, but no avenue for innovation will go unexplored – and this may result in huge privacy issues.
Users who don connected devices will have much of their activity monitored on a daily basis. Their location, their heart rate, their breathing patterns, sleeping habits, nutritional needs, shopping preferences, daily schedules and even the status of their fertility can now exist as data on any number of devices. Likewise, Internet-connected household appliances may be registered with user accounts that store customers' names and addresses. Washing and drying units and smart thermostats will be plugged into the same network as a laptop storing sensitive information. The question is, how will this gathered data be stored and used – for example, by marketers – and more importantly, how will it be protected from data thieves?
According to Trend Micro research, privacy has become a greater concern over the course of the past five years for 47 percent of survey respondents. Furthermore, 75 percent of these respondents also believe that they have very little control over their personal information as it is collected via online social media, mobile devices and now the IoT. The amount of information being shared will only continue to grow, and as it does, the protection of consumer privacy will be more important than ever.
Cyber security is still the chief concern among consumers
Privacy is a value unto itself. People want to behave naturally and comfortably without worrying how certain data might be used against them. However, the biggest worry among consumers regarding privacy is more directly related to cyber-security concerns than it is to Big-Brother-like actions of corporations. Trend Micro revealed that while 52 percent of respondents are concerned about privacy in the IoT, 80 percent are more concerned about cyber security, and for good reason.
If data ends up in the wrong hands because it is not properly secured, consumers may have bigger issues than say, eerily omniscient advertisers. Personal information may be pilfered by someone who wishes to do them harm, or cause them humiliation. Hackers might gain access to Social Security numbers or financial data. We have already witnessed hackers breach celebrities' computers to access information such as intimate photographs. The more devices that are connected to a single network, the greater the number of entry points for hackers to exploit. In some cases, all it takes is one compromised device for a cyber criminal to wheedle his or her way into a massive network of systems, either in the home or in the office.
Not to mention, the Heartbleed vulnerability – previously believed to have been remedied – is still a cyber risk for many IoT devices that can lead to stolen passwords, according to TechCrunch contributor Ben Dickson. But in the age of the IoT, hackers may be able to go after far more unconventional targets. According to the BBC, researchers claim to have found a way to hack a pacemaker, something that had previously only been conceptualized in fiction. There remains some contention regarding the precise level of risk to pacemakers, defibrillators and other medical electronics; however, the discussion highlights the fact that there is so much more at risk than patient data. The more dependent we become on technology, the greater the potential this technology has to hurt us when it is hacked.
Cloud security will be key
There is a lot of research and discovery yet to be done before cyber security can meet its greatest challenge yet: protecting the IoT. However, much of the data generated in the age of IoT will be stored via cloud servers. This is generally true as mobility becomes a bigger priority among consumers and businesses alike. Cloud computing makes remote and mobile access far simpler.
Thus, a very tangible step that organizations can take right now is to bolster cloud security. Devices that leverage a cloud network, in public or private environments are all windows into the network. Securing this network should be a top priority no matter what, but as more devices are added on, the stakes will only get higher. Protection of cloud-based data is essential.
Cloud Security from Trend Micro can help secure connected devices in the IoT.