The “Internet of Things”: Benefit or Breakable?

The web of embedded and mobile computer devices in everyday objects, commonly known as the “Internet of Things,” has produced a number of benefits in the few years since the idea has taken hold.


Looking at the benefits of this technology, there are several. Being able to remotely control or automate things like lights, heating and cooling, or power consumption in various other devices has proven to be a boon to proponents of energy efficiency and environmentalism. The resulting efficiency can also result in considerable savings on utility bills for the average connected household. Expanding beyond a single household, these automated efficiencies can result in monumental savings and impact at the corporate level, where whole offices and building infrastructure could be put on a “smart grid” and managed for peak efficiency. The potential applications of “IoT” are considerable.


Nothing is without consequences, however. One of the primary criticisms of the “Internet of Things” is the state of security practices surrounding its software and hardware. There are multiple competing standards, vendors tend to not make their offerings compatible with each other, and short-range device connection protocols like Bluetooth are notoriously insecure and susceptible to attack. This might be a nuisance for something like a Fitbit or smart refrigerator, but it could be life-threatening for a smart medical device or an industrial control system. Physically destructive malware like the state-sponsored Stuxnet that destroyed Iranian centrifuges would likely have an easier time in an enterprise full of connected devices.


Who should determine if the benefits outweigh the risk? The free market, consisting of people, households, small businesses, and large enterprises. The pace of technological change should not be hamstrung by government regulation that often takes months if not years to exit a committee. Now that security issues are becoming more well-known through a constant deluge of intrusions and compromises that only seem to be increasing in number and scope, security is now considered by these developers and manufacturers to deserve more than a cursory glance. That’s a good start.


Overall, the Internet of Things has the potential to revolutionize how people use technology in their everyday lives.  The ease, convenience and peace of mind that come with a sense of control over devices in your possession is remarkable.  The positive environmental impact, the energy savings, and the increased productivity that comes with being able to automate more of life’s little tasks is a glorious convenience.  However, the two things keeping me from further adoption of more IoT solutions are security concerns, and the idea of “the bigger they are, the harder they fall.”  There will always be an anxiety in the back of my mind, a nagging “what if this all comes crashing down, what then?”  But if it saves me money and time, then that’s more money and time I can spend doing things I really love to do.  The Internet of Things is a net gain for society, most definitely.


If you chose not to buy in to the whole “connected everything” idea, then your life wouldn’t be too much different than it has been for the last 20 years. You might be paying more for utilities if you forget to turn off the light in the kitchen before going to bed, or wonder if you remembered to close the garage door as you were driving away, but that’s about it. But at least you wouldn’t have to worry about the impending machine rebellion.


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