Living in the Internet of Things: how can we adapt?

Thomas Francis
4 min readAug 15, 2021

IoT is an umbrella term for “smart” devices that are connected to each other through the internet.[1] This article will cover a brief history of IoT, the advantages of IoT, but will mainly cover the inherent risks of IoT.

Brief History of Smart Devices

The first smart device may have begun as early as 1982 when a coke machine was added to an early form of a network called the ARPANET. It merely reported if coke was stocked and the temperature of the cooler.[2] The Internet of Things was likely “born” between 2008 and 2009, at the point when more devices were connected to the internet than people.[3] Today, IoT devices are used or are significantly applicable in almost every industry. By 2022, there will be an estimated 50 billion connections made by smart devices.[4]

The Advantages of IoT

The advantages of IoT lie mostly in the automation of mundane tasks and in sensors. Tasks such as directing traffic, light switches, thermostats, alarm systems, and many more can be automated by a web of IoT, increasingly the reliability of public and personal infrastructure. IoT can thus produce vast amounts of tracking data, which can be interpreted by data scientists or fed into a machine learning algorithm. This data can result in more efficient economies of scale and improve the lives of people through better products.

Although IoT can be incredibly helpful to everyone, there is an even greater amount of harm that can be caused by IoT if used by a repressive government. One of the worst offenders of the irresponsible usage of IoT are mass surveillance programs used by governments such as the United States and China. China is a good example of George Orwell’s 1984 coming into existence. Mass censorship of news and media, the assignment of social credit scores, the active police repression of subversive politics, and the genocide of the Uyghur minority are aided through IoT mass surveillance, mostly through security cameras and smart phones. On the other side of the same oligarchical coin, the U.S. is closer to an example of a Brave New World scenario, where the scourge of opioids produced by large pharmaceutical companies goes unchecked, where people are too distracted by their smart phones to engage in in-person civil discourse, where the science caste system is slowly but surely coming into being, and the wealth inequality gap is literally destroying communities. Smart phones and the mass surveillance of people through IoT has helped increasingly polarize its citizens through content algorithms that create a virtual echo chamber curated to every individual. As much as IoT can produce more efficient economies of scale, they can also imprison us politically, socially, and economically.

Political rant of our dystopian present aside, what follows is the possible disadvantages of IoT.

Security Concerns[5]

Lack of updates or weak update mechanisms can expose IoT devices to viruses that may have been detected and solved in the industrial field, however the device might be so old that it does not receive updates against that virus.

Weak password protection is common threat that most people know about. Easy admin passwords such as ‘admin’ or ‘password’ can be avoided but have nonetheless resulted in many hackings in the past and present.

Insecure interfaces, meaning the lack of authentication or lack of encryption in the API can be another relatively simple hack, where a hacker can use the interface to grab personal data.

Insufficient data protection, meaning lack of data encryption for communication and storage. If the hacker can intercept the data such as through an open, insecure, public Wi-Fi router, then unencrypted data can be easily read or manipulated.

Poor IoT management, such as having many different IoT devices on a local network, may increase security vulnerabilities. A security vulnerability in one device can compromise all devices on the network.

Most people do not have technical IT skills, which creates an IoT skills gap, where normal non-technical people may not implement the security features of a device out of convenience or ignorance.

Privacy Concerns

The security vulnerabilities above can cause privacy breaches on personal networks, which can result in stolen identities, release of personal information and media to the public, or various forms of financial fraud.

Companies and nations alike have been the victim of major security breaches, amounting to billions of dollars in losses annually and the exposure of millions of people’s private information. Unfortunately, these hacks are becoming increasingly commonplace.

Conclusion

Like all technology, IoT is not inherently evil nor is it perfect. Despite its flaws, IoT is required for a functioning post-modern society. The best defense against IoT security vulnerabilities is to be educated about them.

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Internet%20of%20Things

[2] https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~coke/history_long.txt

[3] https://www.cisco.com/c/dam/en_us/about/ac79/docs/innov/IoT_IBSG_0411FINAL.pdf

[4] https://www.juniperresearch.com/press/iot-connections-to-grow-140pc-to-50-billion-2022

[5] https://www.thalesgroup.com/en/markets/digital-identity-and-security/iot/magazine/internet-threats

--

--