by Maria Ilie, Maria Ficiu, Andrei Nicolae, Matei Butucescu
What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?
The internet of things is “the internetworking of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity that enable these objects to collect and exchange data” .
The concept goes beyond the typical machine-to-machine interaction that traditional connected devices have- IoT is expected to usher in advanced interconnectivity that ultimately leads to automation and better data processing.
IoT has been included in Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies for a number of years now, with numerous applications being foreseen, especially in terms of smart homes.
However, the consumers’ concerns are also growing, as they fear that increased connectivity will also mean that they will just have more devices that can be hacked, or that their data will be visible to third parties. To better understand this debate, let’s see what the main applications for IoT are and what they bring in terms of security and privacy concerns.
The main applications for IoT
Any object that can be equipped with a sensor has the potential to become a connected device, so there is no surprise that we’ve started seeing them all over the news. Although many classifications are possible, IoT Analytics  have produced a study to show what the most popular searches were, reflecting where the future consumer demand will be. Let’s have a closer look at the main categories.
The hot topic in IoT right now is the smart home, from Mark Zuckerberg trying to re-create his own home AI Jarvis and Google’s investment in the smart thermostat Nest, all the way to the hundreds of start-ups being funded with similar projects.
This category is probably the most popular because of its relevance to the everyday consumer- you don’t have to be a tech expert to want a refrigerator that tells you when you run out of milk- but that’s also where the problems start. The average consumer isn’t savvy enough to know how to protect themselves and their data against all types of cyber crimes, and with the rise of IoT the stakes are rapidly increasing. In a couple of years, being hacked could no longer mean just someone finding out your password, but potentially causing disruption in your home and monitoring your location.
As this is the most discussed category to date, we will discuss its privacy and security dimensions later on in the article.
After smart home, the most discussed topic was that of wearables, which have already penetrated the market with products such as the Apple Watch, Microsoft Band, FitBit, etc. One of these devices, Jawbone, holds the record for the largest funding for an IoT product to date .
Beyond the fitness trackers, companies are also exploring virtual reality wearables such as Google Glass or the Oculus Rift, which are forecasted to become the newest type of consumer media.
The third category is smart cities, with applications such as traffic and waste management, noise pollution reduction and environmental monitoring. The appeal of smart cities is easy to see, as the potential for cost reduction is immense, and the IoT solutions promise to solve everyday problems such as traffic jams or polluted air.
As global warming comes more and more into the focus of policymakers, it’s crucial that the fourth category, smart grid, is taken into consideration. Smart grids promise to improve the efficiency and reliability of energy grids by analyzing the behavior of electricity suppliers and consumers.
Security in IoT- will you be safe in your smart home?
People like to feel secure in their homes, so the reluctance to embrace IoT devices that might make their homes prone to outside attacks is understandable. New technologies will always be more vulnerable than mature ones, and to add to that, the more devices you add, the more points of entry you grant to potential attackers, as illustrated below.
However, IoT producers are aware of the potential threats and are taking active measures to prevent security breaches from happening. For instance, sandboxing is a common method of protecting against vulnerabilities, and consists of isolating the environment from external intervention as much as possible. That’s why, for example, you can’t install new software on an iPhone that didn’t come from the App Store.
Finally, most hacks of ordinary consumers come from social engineering (e.g. finding out your interests in order to have a better shot at guessing your password, making you log into fake accounts hoping you’ll use the same password), not from a fault of the manufacturer. Thus, digital security education for consumers is going to be far more important than any manufacturing protocol in the future.
Read more about Big Data and online security here.
Privacy in IoT- who can see what you’re doing?
Besides concerns about third parties accessing our data, consumers are worried about the manufacturing companies themselves using it against us.
We should take note of the distinction between individual data and aggregated data processing. Individual data processing is when, for instance, an insurance company would use what they know about your daily step count to modify the price you need to pay for insurance. Aggregated data processing is when that same company would use all the available data to modify the average insurance price. This distinction is important, as most of the data that is currently collected is used in the latter manner, which means one can’t be uniquely identified based solely on the collected data, although that’s not to say that there won’t be a shift at some point.
To conclude, privacy laws and practices will have to evolve at the same pace as technology does, otherwise there will be some clear winners and losers from the people whose data is collected.
Did we make you reconsider how safe you are on the internet? Take the quiz here to find out how to get safe online (give it a try, it’s harder than you think!). Comment your scores down below and let us know what you think about the topic.
Featured image. Retrieved 23/10/2016 from: http://cdn.mos.cms.futurecdn.net/V2mhmEFpAPzBhrKQTJbnKA.jpg
Sensors image. Retrieved 23/10/2016 from: http://lh3.googleusercontent.com/3ilN8pLYRkHhzWgA3QVtVjHOa2Sv9MwYocWB_jXbyRvjXzN53Hb9AV9p4gGBcEM50AyUfYtD1wFtFA1fI_iwpY23EMJ2=s1200
IoT Devices. Retrieved 25/10/2016 from: http://www.theinquirer.net/IMG/976/314976/iot-smart-home-540×334.jpg?1447305839
Nest cartoon. Retrieved 24/10/2016 from: https://ro.pinterest.com/pin/298574650267724826/
Security attacks. Retrieved 23/10/2016 from: https://imgtec.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/IoT-security-attacks.png
Quiz. Retrieved 23/10/2016 from: https://www.getsafeonline.org/quiz/
 Internet of things. Retrieved 24/10/2016 from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_of_things
 IoT popular searches. Retrieved 24/10/2016 from: https://iot-analytics.com/10-internet-of-things-applications/