The giant robot called IOT

The rise of a global IOT network is creating an exponentially growing, giant, Internet-connected global robot.

Jessie Rudd.
Jessie Rudd.

To many, the Internet of things (IOT) is still a very abstract concept: something that companies may use to do some analysis and utilise to make their direct marketing a bit more effective.

In reality, the rise of a global IOT network is creating an exponentially growing, giant, Internet-connected global robot. A robot that is so disparate and insecure that cyber attacks against it are going to cause major societal problems if it isn't regulated. A robot that we cannot even begin to understand the complexities of.

IOT is more than just business connecting printers and perhaps a few medical devices and computer networks. IOT is, quite literally, close to everything digital, and more. Kitchen devices, fitness watches, entire power stations, motor vehicles, smart televisions, digital personal assistants, sensors that collect data, sensors that sense movement; the list goes on.

We are very quickly approaching a time when cyber security professionals won't simply be responsible for ensuring computer networks are safe. Rather, they will be required to ensure all the connected devices and 'things' in the world are safe. This will include devices that are disparate and far flung, while still existing on the same planet.

Consider for a moment what that then implies, for instance, the potential for:

Ubiquitous danger. By its very nature, IOT has a massive potential for damage. Consider how many water mains and power plants could become critical or pushed into critical status? How many vehicles with smart sensors could be hacked and tampered with or shut down remotely? The number of IOT-connected hospitals that could be hacked into and patient lives put at risk or held to ransom?

Divergence. IOT has a diverse number of devices, operating systems and protocols. That alone makes it hard to consolidate and standardise as companies grow and products change. Also, these devices are scattered all over the world and integrated into systems and software that are completely unrelated.

Scalability gaps. The human interactions that are required with all these various devices and systems are simply not scalable. For instance, what happens when the connected IOT needs an update? What if the human intervention required is not ready or available?

By its very nature, IOT has a massive potential for damage.

As things currently stand, the controls and processes that should be in place to ensure the devices and systems connected to the IOT are secure are spread across the world. Each one built and controlled by different organisations, each organisation having different goals and ideas. As such, nothing has been deliberately designed to fit in with the rest of the IOT, and we are standing at a precipice of an unregulated and very powerful reality that is equipped with the capability to have real world impact.

So what is the solution? How do we navigate this brave new world filled with infinite, but also potentially dangerous, possibilities?

Gartner expects that the number of connected things in use will reach 20.4 billion by 2020. With that level of connectedness, the key is to work together, using the very systems and devices that need securing.

Engineers and IT professionals should be encouraged to demolish their silos and learn from one another, to make the IOT ecosystem sustainable. Similarly, engineers should be working alongside and in conjunction with the cyber security professionals to ensure the ecosystem is protected and secure.

That being said, just because this new and evolved version of the IT sector has the ecosystem covered on the cloud, that doesn't necessarily mean the devices and sensors on the ground are secure. Data flows both ways, and therefore both ends of the spectrum need to be secured.

Perhaps we should start asking business how we are going to manage all the connected devices, with all the potential security risks, at both ends of the spectrum. Perhaps this solution includes devices within a firewall, wireless devices outside a firewall and the devices themselves only connecting into the IOT platform.

Whatever the solution is, we need to find one soon. With rapidly growing numbers of devices and things being tailored for connecting to IOT, the Internet will soon start to think and sense and act independently. Perhaps it already is!

Is that not the very definition of a robot?

It would seem to me that humanity has built and is building a world-sized robot without even realising it.

Jessie Rudd
Technical business analyst at PBT Group

Jessie Rudd is a technical business analyst at PBT Group, a position she has held since 2011. In this role, she is responsible for combining data analysis assignments and researching new technologies in this space. Rudd holds training in IT (computer management) and has been exposed to a number of industries over the past 10 years, including BI, financial services, retail, market research, as well as corporate functions such as call centres, human resources and IT. This broad experience allows her to grasp the complexity attached to converting data into intelligence. Rudd has a passion for investigating new technologies and making others aware of them, as well as finding the most efficient tools for successfully undertaking a required task.

Have your say
Facebook icon
Youtube play icon