I’m no spring chicken – in fact, I just had one of those milestone birthdays <shudder>. That means I’ve seen a lot of exciting technology advancements in my lifetime but nothing with the potential to revolutionize the way we live like the Internet of Things (IoT). Companies are scrambling to connect anything with an on/off switch to the internet and it’s transforming many aspects of our lives. With that comes a long list of IoT pros and cons, but first…

What is the Internet of Things?

These days a huge number of “things” are connected to the internet. They are able to be controlled and/or monitored by other devices that are also connected. Simply put, that is the Internet of Things (IoT).

As consumers, many of us use IoT devices. Do you have a body-worn fitness monitor like a Fitbit or a voice-activated personal assistant like an Amazon Echo or Google Home? These are examples of IoT devices. Others are connected cars, kitchen appliances, thermostats, door locks and security cameras.

Examples for business include asset tracking devices, electronic logging devices, traffic sensors and light switches.

One unusual use of the IoT is a partnership between Disney and Microsoft to build smart birdhouses to study purple martins. The birdhouses are equipped with HD cameras and sensors that are linked to the cloud. They provide high-def views of chicks hatching and the parents feeding them while monitoring the temperature, humidity and air pressure in the mini smart house.

The IoT is growing at a breakneck pace. Some estimate that the number of IoT devices will exceed 30 billion by 2020 and more than 75 billion by 2025! That’s BILLION. With a B! With numbers like that we better pay attention.

IoT Pros and Cons

IoT Pros

For the consumer, the IoT is convenient. You can walk into your house on a cold day and your thermostat senses that you’re home so it kicks on the furnace. You speak to the air and say, “Alexa, turn on the living room lights,” or “Alexa, how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon?” You can start your car with a cell phone or monitor your security camera from anywhere you have an internet connection. And information from medical devices like fitness trackers and pacemakers can give us a more complete picture of our health.

What a time to be alive! Okay – that may be a bit over the top but when I was a kid TVs were only in black and white and they were HUGE. Now, this!

For businesses, the IoT represents more than convenience. It can mean refining procedures and processes, making companies far more efficient, responsive and competitive. With the right IoT devices and configuration, companies have more control of inventories, can streamline operations, cut costs, increase customer satisfaction and more. Industries like agriculture, retail, banking, insurance, utilities, education, hospitality, and healthcare can benefit from the IoT.

The IoT can even make our world safer. It’s possible to build bridges with concrete sensors that monitor stresses and alert people to fix problems before a catastrophe occurs. In the future, those same sensors may be able detect ice and communicate that to your car via the internet. The car can instruct you to slow down or perhaps even slow itself.

Already, sensors in the road can detect traffic patterns and communicate that information to traffic lights to reduce congestion. The possibilities are limitless.

IoT Cons

As neat and helpful as the IoT can be, there are at least two major concerns: privacy and security.

Related Article: Cybersecurity Business Plan: 5 Steps for Preventing Malicious Attacks

IoT Privacy

When was the last time you agreed to the terms of service for something? Did you read the entire document? A large IoT privacy concern is that companies will use your willingly offered data to make decisions that impact your life. For example, an insurance company might use information gathered about your driving habits from a connected car when calculating insurance rates. Or a health insurance company might use information gathered from a fitness tracker to do the same.

What about the devices that respond to your voice like Amazon Echo or Google Home? They have to be listening in order to “wake” on command to do your bidding. Both Amazon and Google claim that the data sent back to their servers is encrypted and that you can delete it at any time.

But there is a report from Danielle in Portland, OR that a private conversation between her and her husband was recorded and emailed to her husband’s coworker. Amazon confirms it happened and explains that the Echo was initially triggered by a word similar to ‘Alexa’, then later heard ‘send message’ followed by the name of a contact after she asked (presumably inaudibly) ‘to whom?’. Possible? Sure. Plausible? You decide.

IoT Security

With the development of more IoT devices, IoT security becomes a major concern. Each device is a possible entry point for a cybercriminal. Security for IoT means that you not only need to secure devices, but you also need to build security into software applications and network connections.

A team of researchers at Microsoft and the University of Michigan recently poked a bunch of holes in the security of Samsung’s SmartThings platform. And it wasn’t all that difficult. If they can do it, you can bet that hackers will be able to as well. Scary stuff.

Those in the IoT industry need to address consumer perception regarding security. The 2015 Icontrol State of the Smart Home Report found that 44% of all Americans were “very concerned” about the possibility of their information getting stolen from their smart home and 27% were “somewhat concerned.”

The concern is even greater for businesses. The 2016 AT&T Cybersecurity Insight Report surveyed 5,000 large companies worldwide and found that 85% of them intend to deploy IoT devices but only 10% of them felt confident that they could secure them against hackers.

If privacy and security concerns are not addressed, it could damage consumer and business confidence and keep the IoT from fulfilling its potential.

So… friend or foe?

The siren song of the Internet of Things is compelling. It holds almost unimaginable promise for consumers and businesses. We’re just scratching the surface of what can be done. As with most great advancements, there are risks. The IoT can greatly benefit your company – just be aware of and mitigate the security risks.

Whether your business is taking the first steps into the IoT or you need help securing what you already have in place, we can help you reduce your exposure to risk and stay on top of security. Contact CCB to learn more.