What Is The Internet of Things? (IoT)

If you are GenX, you probably remember watching the cartoon The Jetsons on Saturday morning. If you weren’t so lucky, The Jetsons were a futuristic family of 4, plus Astro the dog, that lived in a completely automated home, with their robot housekeeper Rosie.

Internet of Things - IoT

Every morning, George Jetson would be flung from the bed and moved automatically through his daily routine of shaving and brushing his teeth while the house set about making coffee and preparing breakfast.

So what does this have to do with IoT otherwise known as the Internet of Things? Quite a bit.

The idea behind IoT is that the devices in your home and work are connected to one central device to meet your needs, in much the same way that George had his coffee ready to go the moment he was out the door for work. So let’s find out what is the Internet of Things, and how does it affect you now and in the future?

History of the Internet of Things

The phrasing “Internet of Things” has been accredited to Kevin Ashton at MIT, who reportedly coined it in 1999. Experts have determined that the official launching of the Internet of Things occurred when more objects than people were connected to the internet. That beginning would have been sometime between 2008 and 2009. No one is exactly sure.

In 2015, more than 83 million people owned smart devices. By 2020, experts predict it will be more than 192 million devices, including smart appliances, smart security and home safety systems, and smart home energy equipment.

What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things is the connection and interface of a variety of devices (things) to a central network (internet). You are probably already familiar with different platforms such as Siri or Amazon Echo, where you can connect specific devices and your vehicle to a central voice-activated control center.

Let’s look at how Amazon Echo works as an example of an interconnected system. Amazon Echo is a round device that is programmed to respond to voice commands. It is connected to your Wi-Fi via an app on your smartphone. To activate it, use the word “Alexa, Echo, or Computer,” then the command or question you have.

Amazon Echo can play requested music, set timers and alarms, make calls, make purchases via Amazon, turn on and off connected devices like lights and security systems, send messages, and answer questions. Echo has a seven-microphone setup with far-field voice recognition. It must always be on, ready to respond to your voice prompt.

The Internet of Things network expands with Echo Auto. With this add-on, your vehicle can be connected to Alexa via the app on your phone. You can request your favorite song, check your calendar, listen to audiobooks, locate businesses, make calls, and send messages while driving.

As technology improves and smartphone use increases, the potential for complete interconnectedness expands. Let’s look at some practical uses being explored and developed as we speak.

Smart Homes

Smart Homes allow homeowners to not only turn on and off devices when they are in the house but also monitor, control, or access them remotely via their smartphone.

Devices that can be activated via the Internet of Things in a smart home include:

  • Laundry machines
  • Thermostats
  • Domestic robots like Roomba
  • Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
  • Door locks
  • Home energy use monitors
  • Home security and monitoring systems
  • Refrigerators
  • Lighting
  • Water detectors

Health Monitoring

The Internet of Things has been adapted to provide individualized systems for the ill, infirm, disabled, and elderly. Smart home technology in this setting includes emergency call sensors and remote health monitors such as:

  • Pacemakers
  • Insulin Pumps
  • Heart monitors
  • Scales
  • Hearing aids
  • Fitbit electronic wristbands

Some hospitals have begun installing smart beds to let nurses know when a patient is trying to get up and adjust to support the person without the need for a nurse to come in and manually make the adjustments.

Agriculture

IoT has impacted the way we grow food. Pest infestations, soil content, temperature, rainfall, wind speed, and rainfall can all be measured and used to automate farming activities to minimize waste and manage crops.

In August 2018, Microsoft and Toyota Tsusho partnered up to create fish farming tools using IoT technologies to improve water management. The potential for positive connectivity is undoubtedly there.

Potential Security and Safety Hazards

Since the basis of the Internet of Things is constant connectivity, the entire platform is vulnerable to cyber hacking. Some security concerns that consumers can reduce are:

  • Weak authentication
  • Not changing default credentials
  • Unencrypted messages
  • Incomplete security updates

Other security concerns are not as easy to fix. Many IoT devices are limited in their operations regarding computational power. These limitations don’t allow them to implement security measures like firewalls or encryption.

In 2016, several DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) incidences interrupted normal activities such as music streaming, online shopping, and social media interchange for several hours. This suspension of services happened when hackers targeted unsecured devices like home routers and surveillance cameras that were connected to the Internet of Things and infected them with malicious code.

Major websites affected by the attacks included:

  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Reddit
  • GitHub
  • Etsy
  • Tumblr
  • Spotify
  • PayPal
  • Verizon
  • Comcast
  • Playstation

To reduce the chances of your IoT being hacked, you should take necessary security precautions. These quick and easy actions can go a long way in protecting your private information.

You should:

Change the default username and password on all IoT connected devices.
Make sure device encryption is up to date.
Hide your Wi-Fi network SSID
Check the authorized list of connected devices to make sure no other device is connected.

Because devices connected to the Internet of Things are often physical gadgets, there is concern among many that these devices can be used to spy on people in their own homes. Remote access is also open to hacking. Using the very same setup you use to monitor your home from another location, thieves could unlock your doors, turn off your alarm and help themselves to your stuff.

If there is some miscommunication with the IoT or failure in the device, there may be additional safety concerns. Thermostats controlled by Echo may overheat and cause a house fire. Computer-controlled brakes, locks, hood releases in your car could suddenly go berserk, resulting in an accident. Remotely controlled pacemakers, insulin pumps, and implantable cardioverter defibrillators could malfunction, injuring users.

The government has only just begun to create laws to protect the consumer from privacy attacks. Senate Bill No. 327 goes into effect in January 2020 and requires manufacturers of connected devices to make sure they have reasonable security features to prevent unauthorized use or access.

The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has come up with a list of recommendations for companies but has yet to make any of them enforceable. The IoT remains vulnerable to attacks, as does your personal information.

Another safety concern is with the gadgets themselves. IoT connected devices are manufactured with a variety of rare-earth and heavy metals in addition to extremely toxic chemicals. These components make it difficult to recycle and discarded devices properly. The effect on the environment where these metals are mined has not been studied adequately either.

What Does the Future Hold for the Internet of Things?

Experts predict that as early as 2020, there will be at least 26 billion devices connected to the IoT, if not more. That may not be such a good thing. Social media and technology already control us to some extent. Automating the rest of our lives may seem to things more comfortable, but at the same time, linking up reduces the control we have over our own decisions.

Privacy, as was understood by our parents and grandparents, has ceased to exist. These days, our every online action is already monitored, from our internet searches to buying habits. Now, thanks to the Internet of Things, our daily home activities and habits are subject to scrutiny by agencies and businesses that may not have our best interests at heart.

In Conclusion

In this article, we discussed the question What is the Internet of Things? The IoT is an ever-growing network of connected devices and applications. While there are definite benefits to automation, such as in the health and agriculture fields, there are some safety and security concerns to be aware of.

Devices connected to the IoT are subject to:

  • Hacker attacks
  • Malfunctioning
  • Potential long-term environmental destruction
  • Unscrupulous data collection

Taking security precautions can reduce the chance of your personal information being misappropriated. Time will tell if government regulation will curb unscrupulous data collection and reduce the potential devastation to the environment caused by mining and disposal of the components necessary to run the Internet of Things effectively.

Meanwhile, IoT will continue in attempting to create a futuristic world, much like the one that the cartoon family the Jetsons inhabited. However, there may not be enough safety nets incorporated just yet to make it a safe and secure interconnected world.

Brett Gordon
 

Brett is the founder and editor-in-chief of GetInternet. Having clocked tons of time in the broadband industry, today, he’s dedicated to positioning GetInternet as a prime resource simplify the broadband shopping experience. He enjoys traveling, reading, and swimming.

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