Smart home appliances, smart security systems, fitness trackers, wireless headphones/earbuds and so many more have become an intrinsic part of our daily lives that if we were deprived of them, we’d feel a void somewhere.
Amid the COVID-19 threat, drones, too, have become vital to our sustenance. They have been used for delivering medicines and other essential goods to hospitals and healthcare centers, disinfecting coronavirus-affected areas, and for surveillance to enforce social distancing.
Those devices fall under the Internet of Things (IoT) umbrella, which, make no mistake, is now one of the mature, increasingly mainstream technologies along with Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Automation and more.
According to data from Juniper Research, the number of IoT devices would have shot up to 38.5 billion by the end of 2020, an increase by 285 percent since 2015.
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The proliferation of IoT, however, has been fairly recent. It reached the commercial market in 2014, fifteen years after the term was coined by a British Technology expert, Kevin Ashton, initially to promote radio-frequency identification (RFID).
IoT’s growth rate will continue to rise and permeate more sections of the society. According to a Kaspersky report from April 2020, 71 percent of the organizations in the IT and telecom industry already use IoT, while 68 percent of companies in the finance industry use the technology. And it’s only a matter of when, and not if, more businesses adopt the technology to streamline their operations, reduce costs, increase efficiency and discover new revenue streams.
Implementing IoT, however, does present a few challenges for businesses.
One key facet of successful IoT adoption is having the technical expertise to configure the devices for maximum performance but also to ensure they don’t have, for instance, a security hole which could be exploited.
According to a Gartner report, IoT integration is cited as the primary hurdle, with 50 percent of the enterprises reporting to not having dedicated teams, processes or policies to implement and maximize the technology.
Poor configuration of the devices may disrupt business operations and ultimately make the upgrade futile.
On a fundamental level, IoT deployment comprises two parts. The first is the physical aspect of handling the connected device and its operation. The second is the cyber element.
Earl Perkins, Gartner’s managing vice-president, says: “Knowing when and how you must secure the physical element is going to be a major focus for many data-centric IT organizations, and usually requires engineers to assist.”
Due to their connectivity and access to business networks, IoT systems are particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks. With multiple devices being connected to the internet, each becomes an entry point for attackers to gain access to a network and expose confidential data.
How can companies ensure security when handling IoT devices?
Some standard best practises apply:
- Create a secure password and update it regularly (Note: IoT devices may have default passwords set by vendors for initial configuration and can be difficult to change or cannot be changed)
- Protect routers with a strong password, and set up a firewall to monitor traffic between the internet connection and IoT device
- Ensure the IoT devices are updated with the latest patches and security updates
- Consider connecting IoT devices to a network that doesn’t connect to computers storing key data
- Check if all the devices need to be connected to the internet
Connectivity and workload
Network and bandwidth constraints are being felt with the abundance of internet-connected devices.
Most IoT features need lower latency for effective performance and may require local servers or service providers to provide fresh bandwidth and QoS to manage workloads with unique requirements. Implementing this may not be cost-effective, let alone the human cost of operations.
To overcome this, companies may look to increase the processing capacity of the devices and improve connectivity performance by leveraging edge data centers to handle some of the computing workloads. Being close to the network edge, they will help reduce latency and process information faster.
Another advantage of edge data centers is they can resolve connectivity issues by extending network services into remote areas.
Data Protection and Privacy
All interactive electronic devices gather and store user information, which may include their diet plan, their work location and a whole lot more.
It is no secret that IoT devices gather accurate data from the physical world. While that’s desirable for organizations from the analytics viewpoint, a user might not be convinced with sharing the data (even if it doesn’t contain personal information) externally.
According to open-source web application security project, the major privacy risks include web application liabilities, data leakage on the operator side, sharing data with third parties among others.
Though it goes without saying, the purpose of collecting data, expiry and security must be clearly stated in the information security policy, while organizations must carry out a risk assessment of the consequences associated with processing.
The capacity to detect, analyze and resolve issues pertaining to IoT devices is integral for successful adoption of the technology.
This is a major challenge for organizations considering the shortage of relevant skills and the overwhelming number of connected devices that may require service and support from the IT department.
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Original equipment manufacturer warranties, while expensive, can help companies with continuous monitoring and analysis and lessen maintenance costs. It also allows organizations to utilize their resources more effectively.
IoT enables organizations to innovate and grow by providing data-driven insights into the productivity and performance of their processes and systems, by providing new ways to understand customer behaviour and pain points, and by creating new business opportunities.
Therefore, companies have plenty to gain from implementing IoT, which does pose challenges before, during and after deployment. However, with a combination of technical expertise, support framework and cybersecurity protocols, organizations can leverage the transformative capacity of the technology.