Are you ready for a world where everything will be connected to everything? As strange as it may sound, this is exactly where the world is already headed. All of a sudden, everything around us has become smart – smart phones, smart cars, smart TVs, and smart kids getting ready to live in smart homes. Hilarious, you will say. Wouldn’t you?
My good friend just designed and completed a house in Lagos, Nigeria, that is literally controlled through a mobile phone. Every single part of the house has sensors that trigger the mobile app based on different configurations such as noise, threat, etc.
If, for example, there is a knock on the door, irrespective of where the owner is, as long as he has Internet connection, he will be able to see the person knocking on the door. I could go on and on about the features of this house, but I believe you sort of get the picture already. It is simply an IoT-based house and nothing more.
So the big question is, “are you ready for the Internet of things?”
First, what exactly is the Internet of Things? Simply put, it is believed that everything around us is now being designed and built to be connected to the Internet in one way or the other; from home appliances, to furniture, cars, schools, public places, etc.
Here is a more technical definition, courtesy of techtarget.com: “The Internet of Things is a scenario in which objects, animals or people are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to automatically transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction. IoT has evolved from the convergence of wireless technologies, micro-electromechanical systems and the Internet.”
For Cisco Inc. “The IoT links smart objects to the Internet. It can enable an exchange of data never available before, and bring users information in a more secure way. Cisco estimates that the IoT will consist of 50 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2020.”
Going by what Cisco predicted, the number of devices will outpace humans by a ratio of about 5:1. This, in itself, presents both opportunities and challenges. Would we get to a point where humans would have to wage war against robots? By the way, this fear is already being expressed in some quarters.
The Internet of Things became more of a reality when hackers, back in 2014, configured a refrigerator to send spam messages. Here is an excerpt of Proofpoint’s report: ‘In January 2014, Proofpoint researchers discovered proof of a much-theorized, but never before seen Internet of Things cyber-attack. Proofpoint has observed what we believe to be an industry first of devices, including some home appliances, (TVs, a refrigerator), sending malicious email spam.
“As our researchers were analysing email-borne threats. They observed a recent cyber-attack campaign where more than 25 per cent of the malicious emails (over 750,000 messages) came from things that were not conventional laptop or desktop computers, but rather members of the Internet of Things; a “Thingbot”-net*.
“A more detailed examination suggested that while the majority of mail was initiated by “expected” IoT devices such as compromised home-networking devices (routers, NAS), there was a significant percentage of attack mail coming from other non-traditional sources, such as connected multi-media centres, televisions and, at least, one refrigerator.”
This is not exactly a surprise to me because almost every single gadget today comes Internet-ready. Every gadget you can think of, such as cars, refrigerators, gas cookers, wrist watches, televisions, radios, spectacles, security cameras, photocopying machines, etc., are now being connected to the Internet.
This way, you can have remote access and control over them. Each of these will have their own unique IP on the World Wide Web and they can be exploited by any smart kid out there, either for the good of mankind or to wreak havoc.
In the example cited above, the creators of the malware made sure that it auto-installed on those devices by exploiting the weaknesses on those gadgets such as poor configuration, unprofessional coding or weak passwords.
Eric Vyncke, a distinguished engineer with Cisco, described the risks and proffered some solutions in a presentation at a RSA Security Conference in San Francisco recently.
Vyncke had postulated that worms, Trojans, and botnets that were once limited to PCs and mobile devices can now infect a television or home security system too.
If you recall, I have always stressed the need to begin to raise our own cyber warriors, or Army, if you like, to be trained and mandated to protect us in the event of a massive cyber-attack.
Here is what Eric Vyncke went on to say: “As annoying as that may be, the real concern is organised crime and cyber terrorism. IoT gives professional hackers and malware developers’ access to intellectual property and an ability to spy on, or sabotage manufacturing facilities and critical infrastructure systems like the power grid, oil pipelines, nuclear power plants, and railway systems.
“On a more personal level, a criminal who can hack your smart metering utility system can identify when usage drops and assume that means nobody is home”.
Finally, I need you to realise that as long as you have started acquiring these modern devices, you are already a player in the Internet of Things and if you actually look closely, then, you will possibly find new opportunities in the midst of the boom and challenges.