Our world has changed a great deal over the last few years. One of the biggest changes has been a realization that the more we become connected to the world, the more careful we need to be about securing those connections. An incident was reported in Bangladesh recently where close to a billion dollars were stolen because of poor quality and unsecured network routers. Identity theft, credit card fraud, and personal information stories have become so commonplace that we have almost become immune to them.
As we move towards incorporating the Internet of Things (IoT) in our daily lives with smart gadgets and eventually smart homes, securing these devices needs to be a paramount concern for all the companies involved. Make no mistake, there is a lot at stake here. There are companies like Intel and Microsoft that have lost out in the mobile wars and are now looking to accelerate the next big shift. Even Qualcomm, a company that is ever present in mobile devices all over the world, cannot rest on its laurels for future success. The company has developed a vast horde of high quality, enforceable patents that should help it become a major player in the IoT.
The three companies recently ratified an agreement to use some commonly agreed upon standards to ensure that all the different smart thermostats, lights, fridges and even cars actually end up talking to each other and not just company servers.
The issue is much more serious than it seems
We are fast approaching the time when wirelessly connected devices will be omnipresent everywhere. An estimated 40 billion devices will be online by 2020 alone. Yes, the time when your groceries get refilled on their own, your self-driving car picks up your children and your smart home adjusts the thermostat to optimum efficiency according to the weather and number of people inside is not far away.
It will make the life of people incredibly more efficient, easy and allow for a more sustainable style of living. The problem is that all these gadgets provide a pathway inside your house to potential hackers. Some of these incidents have already surfaced. There was a particular brand of webcam manufacturer whose products could be hacked into by anyone with a browser and access to their IP address. It was a horrific invasion of privacy and one that did not have an easy fix.
Many of the devices in question could not be upgraded over the air and needed a physical upgrade to patch the security issue. Such lapses cannot be allowed to happen. Smart devices can be used as the gateway to home network breaches and compromised passwords used for banking, social media, identity theft or just about anything else that you do online. It’s a scary thought and a problem that will only get worse if adequate steps are not taken right now.
The silver lining
The positive thing out of all this mess is that people who matter are beginning to take notice. Companies are taking IoT security much more seriously than before and adding in layers of encryption as a standard. Even governments all over the world are stepping in taking cognizance of some standard basic parameters that need to be set up to allow IoT to thrive without a serious risk to its users. Companies need to ensure that every step of the process is secure. IoT devices remain always on, unlike your phones or computers that need to be authenticated every time. More safeguards need to be developed so that these devices cannot be used by unauthorized people.
The data which is being collected by the companies needs to be limited or at the very least secured. This data is a treasure trove for marketers who can sell information on the black market for high prices. Standard security protocols also need to be set up by the bigger companies in the fray so that the rest will follow.
Security is a big issue for IoT right now, but that is nothing different than any major technology shifts that preceded it. There is hope that major advances will not be limited to user interface alone and will extend to making devices that are secure, safe and trustworthy.