Internet of Things (IOT), smarter planet or scary one?

We hear this term more and more often these days from radio and social media. IOT has sprung up in the last few years and become popular in the crowd of the people all across the world. The fact is that IOT has been there for more than 20 years. The concept of connected devices has been introduced in 1982 before internet was invented. The term Internet of thing first was introduced in 1999 by Kevin Ashton and was spread all over the place after emergence of smartphones.

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What is Internet of things?

Internet used to be limited to a network of connected computers while this term nowadays is used for everything beyond the scope of computers from your cellphone to refrigerator, TV, car, water pipe, gas valve, lamp, oven, etc. The number of connected devices was reported 200M grown to 6.4B in 2016 expected to be 21B by 2020.

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Smart home

Before going deep to the technical side of IOT let me start by cool features we achieve from IOT. Assume you are outside home working from 9-5PM during the weekdays. You will be able to save some money by turning off heating between the hours you are not at home but it is nice to get some rest in a warm home when you come back. So, you can just turn your heating/cooling system on by your cellphone on your way home, just be careful, I was caught by a cop because of using my cellphone while I was driving. How about you go for shopping after your work? Ugh, I never had a shopping list in my life, so I have had trouble remembering what is inside my fridge and what I need to buy at Costco. IOT helped me this time showing what I have in my fridge by a camera. How about when I am going to sleep? For the god sake I forgot to turn the backyard lamp again. Wait a sec, I can turn it off by tapping on my cellphone in my bed this time. Yeah IOT is a thing. I should say I love this Internet of things.

LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 07: Samsung spokesmodel Kai Madden displays the connectivity feature on a Samsung smart refrigerator at the 2014 International CES at the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 7, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. CES, the world's largest annual consumer technology trade show, runs through January 10 and is expected to feature 3,200 exhibitors showing off their latest products and services to about 150,000 attendees. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

Samsung spokesmodel Kai Madden displays the connectivity feature on a Samsung smart refrigerator at the 2014 International CES at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Smart City:

There another group of people who may like IOT are public workers such as an ambulance driver for whom traffic signals get green before reaching an intersection. In the oil industry, IOT is popular since most of the sites are located in places where there is no human lives. For example, gas pumping companies whose gas valves are controlled from a big city centre 5000 miles away from dispatching.

IOT & Unemployment

However, structure engineers may not like IOT since embedded sensors in concrete is taking their jobs. Engineers used to manually control the quality of buildings’ structures or bridges. Another example is many technicians who are loosing their jobs to sensors which control pipe erosions. There is no doubt that many jobs will become obsolete while many new jobs being created by IOT. This would be catastrophic for some countries in which the government does not calibrate the job market with the newly created jobs while some old fation workers may lose their jobs.

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Smart Health care:

There is no doubt that IOT affects culture, human behaviour, job market, sex life, business, sport and healthcare. As an example, dolls, sex toys, smart glasses and oculus already affected dating/sex life of the people. In healthcare, there are many wearable devices which control blood pressure, blood sugar, eating behaviour and temperature while a patient is asleep. There are few nurses required to work in hospitals while these devices are transmitting the essential information to the control center in a hospital.

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Smart agriculture:

Another target of IOT is supplying ingredients and water for agriculture. A simple weather station can receive weather prediction from “the weather network” and a server can decide to supply appropriate ingredient for the future days. A farmer can sit in his home and control the flow of planting with a better performance in his farm.

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Is it not scary?

The future of the world culture, job market and life style is erratic under this technology movement. Although IOT seems to be a cool thing helping billions of people across the world to live in a smarter planet, there are still questions and concerns regarding the security, privacy and glitches in this technology. I was looking at a paper towel role I left on my stove telling myself what if my stove was connected to internet and a high school student who was going to participate in this year hackathon competition was going to break into my smart stove and turn it on. Ops.. that makes the whole building burnt to the ground. Well… I have to think of a better home insurance. Umm… insurance? How about my life? I can be suffocated tomorrow morning if my heating system gets crashed by a hacker and blow carbon monoxide to my room. This technology endanger lives of people who may hack IOT devices for different purposes such as beating the producers of these smart devices or even entertainment.

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Security Concerns:

I have listed a set of examples of important security incidences happened in the past few years targeting different industries.

  • Steel Mills: Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) recently issued a report that confirmed that hackers had breached a steel plant in their country and compromised numerous systems, including components on the production network.
  • Energy grid: According to a June 2015 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, attacks on the U.S. power grid system are “increasing,” with hackers stepping up efforts to penetrate critical systems and to implant malicious software that could compromise the power grid and result in a nationwide crisis.
  • Water supply: Read about the comedy of errors that led to the false ‘Water-Pump Hack’ Report.
  • Hospitals: Recently a news bulletin revealed that hackers had broken into the massive hospital network of the University of California, Los Angeles, accessing computers with sensitive records of 4.5 million people.last month the US FDA directed hospitals to stop using Hospira’s Symbiq Infusion System because it can be remotely accessed by hackers
  • Building infrastructure: The Department of Homeland Security recently disclosed a 2012 breach in which cybercriminals managed to penetrate the thermostats of a state government facility and a manufacturing plant in New Jersey.
  • Oil Rigs: According to a 2014 Reuters report, hackers shut down a floating oil rig, by tilting it, while another rig was so riddled with computer malware that it took 19 days to make it seaworthy again.
  • FirearmsTrackingPoint makes a smart rifle that lets you digitally “tag” a target, and then locks the trigger until the gun is perfectly positioned to hit it (from up to a half mile away). It also connects to smart phones or tablets so a buddy (or accomplice) can view what the shooter sees in the scope. Now, security researchers have discovered software flaws in the computerized rifle. Anyone near enough for a Wi-Fi connection to a rifle can remotely tinker with its controls. In the worst case, a hacker could force a police sniper to miss while shooting directly at a hostage-taking criminal — and hit the hostage instead. Or a hacker could simply lock the rifle’s controls, rendering it useless.
  • Airplanes: I did refer to the serious breach of an airplane while in flight earlier in this post and hadn’t intended to provide much more insight into this breach as I referred to it in an earlier blog. But something is bugging me, so I have to throw it out there. Debris from the wreckage of Malaysian Air Flight MH370 has now being discovered, indicating that the plane and its 239 passengers went down in the Indian Ocean. What’s still unknown is what caused the plane to alter its flight path. The investigations into the pilot, co-pilot and other crew members turned up nothing to suggest that they were responsible for the crash. So, what then? (Could this be a case where somebody hacked into the aircraft controls while on the flight or from afar, and took the plane down? That is a terrifying scenario that nobody is talking about.

Privacy concerns:

There are range of privacy concerns about this technology in addition to the security concerns. Using wearable devices which submit data to the a cloud computing platform may expose our private data to researchers, hackers, etc. For example, wearable devices which are transmitting data to cloud analytics tools can potentially reveal the identity of the people who are using these devices by combing different datasets. For instance certain health data can be combined with the birthdate and the location of the users to identify the person identity. This may cause many privacy issues such as revealing health data, customer information, etc to be misused by different organizations for advertising to black mailing. This phenomenon endangers jobs or family relationships of the people.

  • My family picture was taken by my TV and posted to the internet if my smart TV gets hacked.
  • Some health card info was used to access patient health info for advertising or black mailing people.
  • The time you are not at home can be revealed to thieves.
  • Some people may have privacy concern about their social activities recorded by wearable devices which expose their private data events in the internet.

Technology glitch:

Technology glitches are unavoidable. There are always bugs and faults that comes with new technologies. For example several incidences reported for Tesla self driving car that has a root in technology bug. The glitches may be fixed after mass production of a smart devices. The first release of smart refrigerator may have lost control and everything in the refrigerator got frozen. However, this depends on the maturity of the product as well as how a smart product being tested before production. This may happen to any non-smart products as well.

IOT infrastructure:

Given the concerns mentioned above, a successful product depends on how the product is designed, produced and tested. A good IOT product should consider many factors including security, privacy, quality of the hardware, quality of the software, good analytics, and more importantly low price. Affordability of an IOT device is one of the most important success factor in the market. In the next blog, I am going to discuss about IOT architecture and the infrastructure requirements such as:

  • IOT SDK
  • IOT Gateway
  • IOT User Interface
  • Cloud solution
  • Analytics
  • Authentication & security
  • Registry
  • Rule Engine
  • MQTT
  • APIs & IOT

This will be discussed in another post here how to design a good IOT product.