Security & the Internet of Things: Are Our Devices Safe?

After October’s massive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack in which several major web properties, including Twitter, Reddit, Spotify, Seamless were brought down by a botnet of hundreds of thousands of infected internet connected DVRs and cameras, there is a long list of questions to consider as the Internet of Things (IoT) takes hold. What about standards? What are the security and international protocols? How will we deal with data management structures? Where will we put all that new data? A lot of data. We’ll need to understand what’s possible and then decide if, just because it is possible, should it happen or not?

Who creates the standards?

Some existing standards groups have been hard at work on IoT initiatives. An IEEE project is drafting a “Standard for an Architectural Framework for the Internet of Things (IoT)”. The Object Management Group (OMG), an international technology standards consortium, has been at work on multiple Industrial IoT (IIoT) standards that include data distribution services, dependability frameworks, threat modeling and more.

iot_img2OMG has also created an organization called The Industrial Internet Consortium to “catalyze and coordinate priorities” related to IIoT. Their world conference happened in October in Barcelona. What you’ll find interesting is the diversity of membership. There are the big tech companies – AT&T, Cisco, IBM, GE, Intel – who are founding members. Then there are a lot of members that don’t typically show up at IT conferences, like Toyota, Olympus, and The World Economic Forum. There are some smaller companies you’ve probably never come across, and a number of educational institutions that range from Auburn University in Alabama to Yokohama National University in Japan. The list is an impressive indicator of just how pervasive IoT interest has already become. And how much more pervasive it is likely to be.

There also appear to be lots of local and national organizations forming. There’s the US-based IoT Consortium. With another diverse membership, they frame IoT as “a shift from the Information Age to the Intelligence Age which will be characterized by the autonomous communication between intelligent devices…” The Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council has formed an IoT Community that holds regular information exchange sessions for area businesses. They staged their own Boston IoT conference in June. And there’s another Boston IoT summit that occurred October. So, if you’re a joiner, it’s likely an organization already exists to suit your interest.

What will happen to the data?

How will we handle IoT generated data? Take driverless cars as an example. Experts are expecting that every driverless car will have an internet connection that sends 25 Gigabytes of data to the cloud every hour. That represents as much as 130 Terabytes of annual data storage needed per car. Storing, accessing, protecting and analyzing all that data will be a huge challenge. Sheer data volumes will overwhelm traditional IT infrastructures and data management approaches.

Because much of this new data will be generated from mobile devices and remote sensors, we’ll also need huge amounts of network bandwidth to support it and, while cloud providers are the most likely storage target, their resources will be heavily challenged. This is also where IoT is providing expanded opportunities for new technologies like data virtualization to help manage that expected torrent of data. The challenge in all of that data collection will also be using it; quickly analyzing and taking advantage of why it was created to begin with. And much of that will need to happen in real time. This is a perfect use of data virtualization. Because the virtualized data is separated from infrastructure, it can be immediately available wherever needed, without creation of extra copies. That means it is available simultaneously for analysis, development, test, backup, archiving. The any time and anywhere nature of data virtualization makes it an ideal IoT data management platform.

It’s going to take a great deal of work to accomplish what’s currently envisioned for IoT. To start, IoT data has all the usual challenges around security, privacy, transparency and authorized access – but multiplied by orders of magnitude. Think about the potential for cyber attacks when there are 20 billion entry points. While IoT will address some problems, it will clearly create others.

The Verizon report, State of the Market: Internet of Things 2016, provides a concise summary of what we can expect, or at least hope for:

“One of the things that makes IoT so disruptive is that its impact isn’t restricted to a single sector or function. From consumer devices to jet engines, logistics to product development, healthcare to municipal planning, enterprise IoT is having a huge impact. It’s helping farmers tackle climate change issues and dramatically increase yields. It’s helping cities meet the challenges of rapid urbanization and making life better for citizens in the process. And it’s enabling utilities companies to modernize aging infrastructure while increasing efficiency and keeping a lid on costs.”

“IoT is transcending the hype cycle, changing lives and delivering tangible and measurable benefits to consumers and businesses alike. Innovation, productivity and value will continue to thrive as adoption increases.”

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