Connectivity seems to be the new norm, and without even realising it, we’ve made the Internet of Things (IoT) a part of our everyday lives. Smart wearables, internet-connected appliances, and digital assistants are increasing convenience and taking dull tasks off our hands. But much more than that, the IoT has the potential to increase security in our homes, ensure our commutes are as safe as possible, and even save lives.
And the demand for this tech just keeps growing. In fact, it’s estimated that there were 17 billion connected devices worldwide in 2018, and by 2020, that number will reach more than 20 billion. Our dependency on connected devices will also have an impact on the global IoT market, which is expected to be worth $8.9 trillion by 2020.
IoT sensors: the backbone of home security
Sensors lie at the heart of every IoT solution. This tech is designed to detect various changes in a specific environment, such as temperature, light, or motion, and send the data to the user. Despite being small, sensors are powerful enough to secure our homes.
For instance, the German software company Elgato manufactures high-tech sensor solutions that will smarten up any home. At the Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin (IFA) 2017 tech show, Elgato introduced a new line of sensor-embedded IoT devices, including Eve Smoke, Eve Lock, and Eve Window Guard. Eve Lock is connected to a smartphone app, and it enables users to lock or unlock their doors even when they’re not around. Eve Smoke is a smart smoke detector that alerts the user by sending a push notification to their smartphone once it detects smoke or fire. And Eve Window Guard is a wireless device designed to detect when the window is opened or closed and notify the homeowner if it senses unusual activity.
Improving public transport safety with the IoT
Besides securing our homes, IoT tech can also be used to address public safety threats. For instance, India’s transportation system, besides being hectic, is rather unsafe, particularly for women and children. Recently, Times of India reported that a 19-year-old woman was abused in a shared rickshaw by another passenger. Such incidents inspired India’s Transport Department to propose an IoT-based solution called Project Abhaya.
The project is envisioned to provide safety for women and children during travel. The plan is to install around 50,000 IoT devices in auto rickshaws, public buses, and cabs. Each device will be equipped with real-time tracking technology. Data gathered by the devices will be stored in the cloud and made accessible to police departments. Moreover, the system is accompanied by a smartphone app. Before they enter the vehicle, passengers can use the app to scan a QR code on the vehicle. This will provide them with all the relevant information regarding the vehicle and its driver. In case of an emergency, passengers can use the same app to quickly alert the authorities.
IoT-enabled smart roads could save lives
The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) is on the same page with India’s Transport Department. CDOT hired the Kansas-based company Integrated Roadways to develop smart pavement technology that consists of fibre-optic sensors embedded into the road. The tech detects vehicle speed and direction of travel and identifies if the vehicle has run off the road. In case the vehicle has ‘disappeared’ from the road while speeding, the system will alert officials to send emergency crews to that location. This will enable emergency services to provide better response times and save more lives.
Integrated Roadways’ solution will be installed into an accident-prone area of the US 285 highway in Colorado in the spring of 2019. The area is known for switchbacks, which can be very dangerous to inattentive drivers. Also, the road is surrounded by a rural environment, so when an accident happens, it can take days before someone notices and reports it.
Cybersecurity issues in the IoT age
The IoT is a powerful technology, but it has its vulnerabilities. As more devices become connected, they’re increasingly vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Cyber criminals can hack almost anything today, including our smart home devices. For instance, security researchers from the Tencent Blade Team demonstrated it’s possible to hack an Amazon Echo smart speaker. They were able to modify a single Echo device “by removing its flash chip and writing their own firmware onto it”. This allowed them to use the device to control other Echo devices and eavesdrop on private conversations. But the good news, at least for now, is that the modified Echo device could only perform well when connected to the same network as the controlled smart speaker. So, make sure your network password is strong enough, and you’ll minimise the risk.
In 2017, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), revealed that even some pacemakers are prone to hacking. The discovery was presented at the Black Hat security conference held in Las Vegas. During the conference, researchers exposed weaknesses in pacemakers developed by the medical device manufacturer Medtronic. The main vulnerability was found in a program used by doctors to control implanted pacemakers. The same program is used to receive tech updates from the manufacturer. Here’s where things get tricky: the system doesn’t rely on encryption, which makes it possible for hackers to remotely install malware and take control of the system. As the researchers warn, this could allow hackers to alter the performance of the device and “make life-threatening changes in therapies, such as increasing the number of shocks delivered to patients”. While IoT tech continues to advance, such threats will become more common. Manufacturers of IoT technology should pay more attention to security during the design and development stages and constantly test their tech for new vulnerabilities.
The IoT market is growing rapidly, and this technology has already proved to be a great way to make our lives more convenient, efficient, and safe. Thanks to IoT solutions, we can control our homes remotely and feel safe when we’re out and about. But the IoT is far from perfect – as the number of connected devices grows, so do cybersecurity concerns. Still, the future looks exciting, so expect to hear even more buzz about the IoT in the next few years.