Forget the fearmongering and embrace the internet of things

Has your smart refrigerator been infected by a strain of zombie malware? Or maybe spies have been listening to you via your networked alarm?

For some reason, the idea of connected devices – a vital part of the internet of things (IoT) – has sent the imaginations of some organisations into overdrive. Last February, Germany’s telecommunications watchdog reportedly told parents to destroy an innocent-looking talking doll over fears that hackers could exploit its connectivity to talk to children.

When you read some of the hyped-up media coverage, you would think that we are quickly heading towards a dystopian nightmare.

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The danger is that if we let these concerns slow the implementation of IoT technology, not just in the home but hospitals or factories, we will miss the opportunity to revolutionise whole industries and our public services.

IoT is critical to the UK’s search for the holy grail of higher productivity and competitiveness. The Centre for Economics and Business Research estimates that it could add £322bn to the UK economy by 2020, and create tens of thousands of extra jobs.

To capture this opportunity, the UK IoT sector needs to do more to promote evidence that it is safe and secure, and also explain the critical role it will play in the economy of the future.

Part of the problem is that, too often, IoT is only discussed regarding consumer products such as toothbrushes or smart fridges, which seem frivolous to many. But its applications are far more significant and vital.

IoT devices that measure and deliver data, combined with artificial intelligence or machine learning which turn that data into insight and actions, can transform whole sectors of the economy, cities and public services.

For example, in manufacturing, IoT technology can predict machine failure, saving millions. Councils can use it to improve congestion, and the NHS could save a fortune by tracking whether people are taking their medicines. In agriculture, farmers can put devices on cows which tell them how to improve milking.

The IoT sector, just like the rest of the tech industry, faces security challenges that are continually evolving. Security fears are not new – the first computer virus, Creeper, was created more than four decades ago, but this hasn’t stopped the growth of the computer.

Unfortunately, sensationalist media accounts have harmed perceptions of IoT. Consumer trust is low. A December survey from US technology giant Cisco of 3,000 people found that just nine per cent of respondents said that they trust that the data collected and shared through IoT is secure.

We need to make sure the message is being heard that IoT industry is on top of security.

Billions of dollars are being invested in solutions. As anti-virus software helped halt computer viruses, similarly there is a growing range of products that protect IoT networks, often tailored to the needs of specific sectors.

We invest in companies like RazorSecure that protect wifi networks of planes, trains and automobiles, or Sentryo which secures machine-to-machine networks.

As an industry, we need to do more to promote what we are doing concerning IoT security, but also develop strong industry standards that mean that only secure products are delivered.

In the US, the proposed Internet of Things Cyber Security Improvement Act aims to require IoT devices to conform to industry security standards and to be free of any known security vulnerabilities.

We would strongly support working with the UK government on developing similar legislation to help deliver greater confidence here.

Everything points to IoT being at the heart of the fourth industrial revolution. In all the excitement, it is critical that we make sure it is understood and trusted.

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