Picture this: you check your house’s status on your smartphone and discover that your front door was left open. You lock the door remotely, then realize that the cat may have gotten out. You tune in on her locator chip, hop in your car, and track her down in no time. Once she’s safely brought back home, you decide to reward yourself with an ice cold Diet Coke from a nearby vending machine. According to the machine’s signal, there’s a decent selection available, even including the lime-flavored variety! Time for refreshment!
Science fiction? No. All of that is reality, and available right now. It’s all part of the Internet of things, a concept that is becoming more commonplace. But of course, with any new innovation, there are new concerns. Let’s take a look, but first, a definition is in order.
Could your smart fridge rat you out to your dietician?
The Internet Of Things Defined
The Internet of Things, otherwise shortened to IoT, is a setup where everything: people, pets, appliances, and other things each have a unique identifier that lets them transfer data over a network without any human intervention. All the thing needs is Internet access and the ability to have its own unique IP address.
Incidentally, the first Internet appliance was indeed a Coke machine in the early 80’s, that when accessed via an Internet connection, let the user know if there were any cans left.
As awesome and convenient as IoT can be, there are two big concerns. Once you check them out, you can find even more points of consideration in the article “New Security Challenges Accompanying the Internet of Things”.
Imagine, if you will, a collection of appliances, each with an RFID tag, sending out information. Could your bathroom scale send out your latest weight, prompting an automated message from some weight loss clinic? Does the manufacturer of your wireless printer really need to know your printer ink levels, or how much paper you used for the last four weeks?
In order for IoT to work properly, it will need information. And that information is your life, your habits, your choices, all of them transmitted to who knows where, being seen by who knows who. Do you really want your toaster to rat you out?
Most of us by this time have read about recent incidents where hackers made the lives of a bunch of celebrities miserable by accessing their iCloud accounts and stealing personal images, many of an intimate, embarrassing nature. No network, no data storage, is 100% foolproof. It was bad enough when all you had to worry about was your bank passwords, family pictures, and documents being secure online. With a full range of smart devices, transmitted chips, and RFID tags, the stakes have gone up exponentially.
It’s not just the security of the data that needs to be kept in mind. Can those devices be somehow physically tinkered with and controlled by intruders? Could they get their hands on not only sensitive information, but also the means to activate your devices? In other words, exactly how tamper-proof are these smart appliances?
Although government oversight may help to regulate data collection, there are still lingering memories of the National Security Agency’s questionable attempts at collecting personal data of American citizens. It may be a while before the confidence of the average American is fully restored in governmental regulation of wireless data.
For more information on things like data privacy and security, check out “Walking the Data Privacy and Security Tightrope”.
All Things In Perspective
While all of this sounds alarming and quite possibly encouraging people not to buy into IoT, that’s really not the case. Like any new innovations, caution and common sense can help reduce the risk of something bad happening. If anything, people who use IoT will certainly be motivated to come up with better passwords than “password”.