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Where the Internet of Things Stands Today

The Internet of Things (IoT) has had many titles since it started gaining traction near the start of 2000, but if one term describes it best today, it would be “exponentially growing.”
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While we’re predicted to hit the 8 billion mark of total IoT devices this year, which is a 31% increase from 2016, there may be as many as 24 billion or more by the year 2020—a staggering growth of 200%.

One thing is certain: the Internet of Things won’t be stopping soon. Wherever it goes, it will get there fast.

And whether that brings us more internet-crippling DNS shutdowns, as the Mirai botnet caused, or we get a revised world that responds to our whims before we know what we want, we won’t know until we get there. But there’s plenty we can glean by looking at the state of IoT today.

Before we get started, are you still unsure what makes an object a Thing of the Internet? Here’s a condensed description: the object in question needs 1) to have sensors built into it that analyze data, 2) to communicate with other devices across a network in response to that data, and 3) to accomplish specific tasks, often autonomously.

The strength of IoT devices lies in their ability to speak to one another. The more you have on a network, the more complex tasks they can accomplish by combining their functions. If your smart car can warn you about the weather and auto-drive you to work, that’s great. But what does a network of smart tech look like?

To show you what more looks like, imagine Barry is running late for work one day before he even leaves the house. He slips inside his smart car, tosses his computer case in the passenger seat, and sets the car to auto-drive. As the car zips Barry down the street, it cross-references the current time and his distance from work, deducts he is late, and understands that he needs to get to work as fast as possible. The car communicates with sensors in the smart road, which alert other cars that it will be shooting down the roadways. Pedestrians along the way receive an advance warning on their smart watches not to cross the road at the time the car will speed by. The other smart cars on the road automatically slide out of the way in pre-calculated movements, accumulating no extra travel time for their riders in the process. While this is happening, Barry pulls his computer from the case, thumbs his sign-in, and begins working. By the time he arrives at work, he’s already caught up to where he would be had he gotten there on time, and the day carries on as normal.

Though this example is projecting a bit into the future, the potential of large networks of smart Things should be clear.

But enough speculation about the Internet of Things. Where does IoT stand today?

1. Where Internet of Things is Working

Despite the nearly 8 billion devices IoT has gained in its development since the ‘90s, the field is just now reaching the midpoint where things start to advance at a new kind of speed. Dan Wellers, the Global Lead at SAPMarketing, says we’re in the knee of the curve of IoT development, which is the point where IoT technology surpasses what developers can anticipate.

That means IoT will progress more quickly than we can map out where it will go, open up doors faster than we can predict what will be in the next room. There’s already evidence of this, which I’ll address later in the article.

IoT In Homes

One of the notable developments IoT has made is its expansion into the domestic scene. A survey from 2016 found that 62% of Americans already own at least one Internet of Things device. To put that another way, nearly two out of every three people you see has opted into the growing amount of Internet of Things.

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What does a smart home look like today? NPR interviewed a family whose house unlocks doors for them, sets the temperature accordingly, and adjusts the lighting. Some of the functions can be voice activated, so if anyone in the family wants direct control over the lighting, they simply tell the house what they want the lights to do. The smart devices do more than provide comfort, too; additional sensors in the basement and under the sink emit a warning if they detect a leak.

And don’t forget the catch-all sensor that Carnegie Mellon University Ph.D. Gierad Laput has created to simplify smart homes:

So if consumers also account for roughly two thirds of all implemented IoT devices on the market—that’s 5.2 billion devices used by homeowners—why don’t we see this happening in more homes? One word: price.

Smart devices are expensive, much more than their regular counterparts. Compare the cost of a normal toaster oven with a smart one. You can get a decent toaster oven for about $40. A smart convection cooker like the June Intelligent Oven? Try $1,500.

While the features in a smart convection oven greatly outnumber those of a standard one, most families probably won’t be jumping to spend over a thousand dollars just so they can manipulate the temperature of their food from their phone.

IoT In Businesses

The adoption of IoT devices is a little slower on the business front. This may not seem so when 60% of businesses have set an IoT initiative to implement that technology into their everyday functions. The truth is, only 20% plan to implement solutions at scale by 2020.

In other words, while a good handful of businesses are starting to consider what IoT tech can do to augment their work output, few have made extensive plans to go all in and transform their business with the evolving technology.

The truth is, the rate of adoption for Internet of Things devices is lower than experts had predicted a few years ago. The fact that IoT technology didn’t turn out to be all glitter and magic doesn’t help.

I see it like this. Moving out of a one-bedroom apartment to a new, bigger house may seem like a bucketful of dreams and upsides. After all, you get more space and freedom when you have your own house. But it’s only after you live there for some time that you get a fuller perspective—constant lawn care, higher bills, lack of furniture to fill out the rooms, etc.—and see all that is involved in making the switch.

We’ve lived in the new house of IoT for a bit. We’ve learned some of what smart business can mean, but we still have more to learn.

Some of it has been great. Today, Chris Mrakas of Matter Technology sells monitoring platforms to landlords so they can gauge solar energy usage by tenants. This way, these landlords have greater insight into how they should apply solar panels to their units.

For the most part however, businesses, like homes, have yet to heavily implement IoT devices. The most either has done is implement appliances like coffee makers and teakettles. And on this front, that’s where we’ve learned a lot of the bad.

2. Where Internet of Things Is Failing

If it sounds like I’ve been hard on Internet of Things technology, it’s because I have been. And I’m about to crack down harder.

Remember what I said before about IoT developing insanely fast? If technology is a speeding mine cart full of unknown treasures, IoT is grease on the tracks. Due to how fast technology is advancing, IoT has opened up questions of policy and legal requirements that we’ve only recently begun to address. The frontier of tech law has been pushed far back, and we’re navigating the wilderness one day at a time.

Despite how long IoT devices have been in development, the industry still suffers from the same three issues since it was created: cost, which I touched on above, security, and connectivity.

Vulnerabilities at Home

People love convenience. Want to make coffee but don’t want to get out of bed to do it? Delay the start of your day a few more minutes and wait for your smart coffee maker to prepare a cup for you according to its preset schedule. Or, as it prepares some warm morning brew, get extra grooming time in front of the mirror, answer a few emails, or do a quick banking transaction.

But just as easily as you can access the coffee maker to automate your morning schedule, someone with the right tool can remotely tap into that device and use it as a leaping point to bypass your home network security. From here, they can spy on your digital activity and even take control of your computer.

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In a story ABC News covered, a security research expert did just that. By tapping into a smart coffee maker built with subpar security, he could track the passwords being typed into the knowing participant’s laptop, spy through the webcam, and even shut down the computer.

If your home and information—potentially worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, plus the emotional value of personal items—are at risk due to a coffee maker, can you imagine what the cost would be for an entire business?

Breaking into Businesses

What if someone could park outside your place of business and break into it without setting foot inside? FleetOwner featured an article where a white-hat hacker performed a live demonstration to show how he hacked into a trucking business to reveal a security oversite to the owners.

Like the expert in the previous example, he avoided attacking the main security systems entirely and instead took advantage of the weak security of a smart device: an electric teakettle. From there, he acquired the WiFi credentials and proceeded to take as much data as he wanted. The worst part? After he finished, he remotely turned the teakettle off and then back on, resetting its memory, which made his attack untraceable.

People who want to exploit smart devices don’t even need to darken the parking lot. They can do it over the internet with some malware. A new malware program unleashed in early 2017 named BrickerBot.3 can permanently damage unsecured IoT devices that operate on Linux or BusyBox software. That may be surprising, especially when you take into account that over 70% of IoT devices run on a Linux OS. That’s a lot of vulnerable devices in a lot of vulnerable businesses.

Slow Ethical and Legal Response

Today, we’re beyond asking what caused these security oversights. Now we’re asking why they still happen years after IoT technology has become integrated in home and office lifestyles. The answer is slow legal response.

Drafting and approving laws usually takes a lot of time. Back when it was a big deal for a new computer processor to jump from 10 MIPS to 100 MIPS, the legal system could lay sanctions in time with the changing rate of technology.

Today, however, after we’ve run Moore’s Law to its end, and our technology is advancing faster than we can conceive of ethical dos and don’ts, any law passed on an industry as rapidly developing as IoT risks being obsolete by the time the law comes into effect.

This is what has allowed manufacturers to sell IoT products that have little to no security features. And because manufacturers aren’t required to include standard cross-communication protocols in IoT devices, devices from one manufacturer don’t always speak effectively to devices from another, if at all.

Luckily, all of this is starting to change.

3. Improvements with Internet of Things Right Now

For one, at the very start of August 2017, Congress enacted the Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act. In a nutshell, what this act does is:
-Prevent IoT developers from selling products with known security holes
-Prevent them from encoding unchangeable passwords into the devices
-Require them to include updatable components
-Require them to update IoT devices in the event of security breaches

Not only does this law boost the security of IoT devices right off the conveyor belt, it gives families and business owners the ability to customize the passwords for an added layer of defense. This prevents attackers from rattling off a list of standard factory passwords and gaining easy access to the device.

And the updatable components allow manufactures to apply hotfix patches when someone invents a clever way to breach a line of IoT devices, keeping homes and offices safer at the end of the day.

In the End

The Internet of Things is doing to home and business life what the Industrial Revolution did to the social structure in the 18th century. It’s forcing us to rethink what domestic living and work mean. If these changes carry through, we can expect to see our daily lives reinvented quite soon—for the better.

Your safety at home matters. You should be able to rely on smart technology that doesn’t leave you with more problems than you started with. That’s why we’ve fashioned our own line of smart technology, Home Automation, which is specifically designed to address core deficiencies in the smart technology of today and connect seamlessly to a device you already know how to use: your phone.

Want to get an idea of what Home Automation would look like in your home? Contact us today to schedule a free home evaluation.

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