The Internet of Things – What is it?

The Internet of things is a collective term for all the various devices, products and wearables that can connect to each other, and to the Internet as well.

Whilst the idea of devices talking to each other, electronically, has been around for some time, the reason the Internet of Things has become a huge concept in more recent times is because of the sheer volume of devices and products that can access the Internet.

Various experts predict growth in the market of the Internet of things to be so huge over  the next 5/10 years that it is almost impossible to put it into any sort of context.

What is undoubtedly true is that there is a relentless drive by manufacturers of every single product to make sure that they are able to connect their device wirelessly to the Internet.

This has huge  implications, not only for the nature of society and how it will change, but for people’s privacy, the control of the information that pertains to their life and their security and well-being.

Moral questions aside, perhaps the most potent issue is that of cyber security and cyber insurance.

Given that in a  few years time virtually everything we own, drive and wear is likely to be connected to the internet wether we like it is or not, the potential risks in terms of some type of cyber attack are enormous, and there are significant implications for people’s safety, both physically and emotionally and financially.

How these risks are managed and understood, both by way of minimising them and insuring against them is a major challenge that has yet to be clearly addressed.

Internet of Things and Smart Homes.

When people think of the internet of things they normally think of smart homes and smart home devices. This is largely because most examples of the Internet of things have tended to paint a picture of how wireless devices will make people’s lives easier by automating normal everyday functions, whether it be driving home from work, fixing the evening meal, automating lights and music in the home, controlling heating levels etc.

Whether normal people actually find the idea of this attractive or not is debatable, but what is clear that virtually all current devices and products that are now being built and produced for the home will contain internet capability.

This is true whether it be a smart television, a baby alarm, a refrigerator or a washing machine. What is also likely is that these devices will be switched on by default, and it is not clear yet whether there will be any capability for turning them off so you are not wirelessly collected.

There is also a fair amount of anecdotal evidence that a lot of major companies are pushing out products that have internet capability with a speed that is more about getting to market quickly and riding on the wave of popularity that the internet of things seems to be generating, than it is about really understanding the security  implications of what they are doing.

What’s this means is that there may be many products that are reaching market that has not been fully tested or manufactured with security in mind, and may need continual software updates or patches to make sure they are secure.

The risk of a cyber attack in a smart home mirrors many of the current risks that a business or organisation will face in its current day-to-day operations.

The dangers inherent in smart hones are not so much that someone’s refrigerator is at risk of attack, but that someone can access a person’s home network through one of these devices, such as a baby alarm or a washing machine, and through that gain access to the  individual or families private data.

Wearables

When people talk about the Internet of things they are also talking about wearables. These can currently only be best thought of as smart watches and fit bit devices. The last couple of years show that  major tech companies have been experimenting with different types of wearables, such as glasses, watches and even tattoos as a way of connecting people to the Internet by things that are a part of their body or apparel.

What is really important to realise here is the principle. That tech companies wants to find at least one wearable that people feel comfortable having on them at all times that can access the internet.

Obviously from a tech company’s point of view it is preferable to have more than one, but one will do. For this reason major tech companies will happily experiment with different types of wearables until they find one that really hits the market.

The implications for wearables are pretty much the same as for those of a smart home.

The fact that an individual will have something connected to their body that is internet accessible means that they are much more at risk of a cyber attack, with all the security implications already mentioned.

Wearables are not simply about phones and glasses.

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that manufacturers of clothes, shoes, shirts etc are looking at ways of inserting internet access and internet products, probably by way of some type of barcode, that would give them information about individual and their shopping habits.

There is also anecdotal evidence of manufacturers of  pillows and bed clothing doing the same thing, again under the pretext of collecting information about how an individual sleeps and  various sleep patterns.

Often, once people understand the implications of how their life will be fully monitored 24 seven via access to the Internet, there is some shift towards a fight against it in terms of privacy and control of their data.

Whilst both these areas are hugely important, they sometimes skew perhaps an even greater need for the understanding of cyber security and cyber insurance to minimise and manage these risks with some degree of safety.

Internet of Things and Autos

In the space of only a few years, most manufacturers of cars and trucks are talking about and developing autonomous vehicles.. No one really seems to be asking the question why, there is a general assumption, often untested, that it is about safety, and that somehow self driving cars and trucks are safer than those with a human behind the wheel.

It is worth going back to the original Google car that was the first self driving vehicle.

That had nothing to do with safety at all. Google’s first car, that resembled more of the old bubble car, was designed with one particular aim in mind. It saw the commuter market, particularly in the West Coast, where people would sit in their cars in gridlocked traffic for approximately fours a day, two hours each way, doing nothing other than look at the scenery around them.

Google saw these cars as opportunities to provide consumers with content that could carry advertising. This meant that if the car could drive itself, the individual could spend time either watching content or playing with content, having a screen in the middle of the car and not having  to worry about where it was going.

As manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon of this, the narrative slightly changed and people started talking about safety.

Quite where it will end up is unclear, but what is clear is that  the trend in most modern cars is to turn them more into infotainment centers than vehicles than can be driven on highways and byways.

The rise in the use of technology in cars, both inside the engine and inside the vehicle itself, is enormous.

What this also means is that the security implications are huge as well.

There seem to be too likely scenarios that are likely to develop in the future. One is the rise of  autonomous cars that drive themselves with no human involvement  at all, the other scenario is where technology is used to automate a number of functions within the vehicle, largely around safety, but with a human driver still in  overall control of the vehicle.

Both scenarios are likely to coexist for a significant period of time, and both have fairly obvious cyber security implications.

The most common threat that is talked about is where someone manages to take control of the vehicle remotely by way of hacking into the cars various systems, and this is obviously a very real threat.

The other major threat, less often talked about, is where someone manages to access the cars computing system through the individuals smart phone, which will largely be used to control most of the on-board Internet access.

Once someone has managed to hack into a smart phone, then it’s open season for all the information contained therein, whether it relates to banking details, credit cards, passwords etc.

It is not clear yet how auto insurance or car insurance will manage and insure these risks.

One reason for this is simply that at the moment it is very difficult to quantify these risks, let alone assess who is responsible for them, and what can be done to minimise them. One thing is likely, which is that the risk of a cyber attack will undoubtedly increase the cost of an individual’s car insurance, whether it is an autonomous vehicle or not.

Agriculture and Energy Management

There are many areas in business and commerce where the internet of things can undoubtedly speed up production and efficiency, logistics and inventory control. There is likely to be a significant cost in terms of human labour, but history seems to suggest that companies don’t worry about this too much.

Two areas that are worth looking at briefly are those of agriculture and energy management. Agriculture especially because it relates to the food that we would eat, and the internet of things could dramatically alter the nature of farming and farming techniques.

Energy management is the other area, which has a direct link to smart homes and the use of energy in businesses and factories. One of the great selling points of the internet of things  is that it can make people’s homes more energy efficient, thus saving them money and conserving energy and fuel at the same time.

Energy management is already a crucial issue in society, even if not all politicians are open to doing what needs doing to effect climate change.

The internet of things has the potential  to manage all types of energy industries and infrastructures with a much greater degree of efficiency and safety. This also means that there is much greater scope for a cyber attack, either around the issue of nuclear plants or oil and gas installations etc.

Again the issue from a cyber security and insurance point of view is assessing the level of risk, understanding how best to minimise that risk, and arranging some type of cyber insurance that can effectively deal with the implications and reality of any type of cyber attack or disruption.

Smart Cities

There is also a lot of talk of smart cities. This is where cities use the collective data generated by all the internet of things within a city or town, generated by cars, sensors, Wi-Fi networks, peoples wearable’s etc as a way of planning urban development  in a more efficient and productive manner.

Again the security implications are significant, as more and more people generate more and more information and data, that is collected and analysed, then there is obviously a greater risk of that data being accessed and stolen, with real implications in terms of cyber security and identity theft.

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