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The ‘Internet of Things’ (also known as IoT) has become a popular topic of conversation both in business and social spheres.

Perhaps one of the more obvious reasons why the IoT is so widely discussed is the potential it has to change our lifestyle and the way we work. As a simple Google search will indicate, there’s a lot of information out there about the Internet of Things, both recent developments and future projections – so, we’ve put together some of the key points that you need to know.

What is the Internet of Things and why is it important?

Essentially, the term ‘things’ in the popular tech trend buzz-phrase indicates any machine that has a built-in sensor collecting and analysing data, which is then communicated through the internet to allow said machine to be remotely controlled.

In theory, any device which can be switched on and off is eligible for connecting to the Internet and/or other devices – it can be your mobile phone, wearable technology (as the most obvious example), your coffee machine, alarm clock, kitchen technology, lights and heating, or almost any other piece of technology that comes to mind. Whether it’s the whole machine, or just a part of it – an engine, a drill, etc. – if it can be turned on, it can become a part of the IoT.

According to analyst firm Gartner, there will be more that 26bn connected devices making up the Internet of Things by 2020 – that’s a massive increase from the estimated 6.6bn in 2016. Relationships within this predicted network of ‘things’ will evolve to include interactions between things-to-things, people-to-people and people-to-things.

Currently, the most popular uses are in areas where security and savings are concerned. For instance, security measures such as motion/door opening sensors, as well as programmable lighting and heating, allowing for huge savings in energy, have taken the market by storm. This is definitely the case in the UK, where smart meters are being rolled out by energy companies (partially as a result of government encouragement). These devices have built in smart functions which allow you to control your heating remotely, introduce regulation settings based on the weather outside, or even have it turn off when there is no one at home.

The Internet of Things has certainly become the next big thing after the boom of personal computers and later on smartphones in the eyes of tech giants. Reportedly, both Apple and Google are already investing heavily in IoT platforms – having both acquired alternative tech firms. This burgeoning connectivity is perceived as a revolution, subtle perhaps, but also more profound that smartphones, as it links everything together.

Is the Internet of Things safe?

As is the case with every new, disruptive technology, the Internet of Things is facing some challenges – privacy and security being the key ones, because of the way connected devices collect personal data, share it with other devices and store it in company databases. Moreover, IT security experts currently report that it’s exceptionally easy to hack IoT devices and gain control over them remotely – which might be harmless if it concerns your coffee maker, but disastrous if it affects your car functions, or the tech of an entire company.

While some security experts point out the insufficient actions being taken to build privacy and security early on in the development of IoT, hackers are yet to turn their attentions to connected devices – most likely because there’s not enough people using them to make it worth the work. Positively, developers within the field of Internet of Things claim these security concerns are temporary and can be addressed with the right amount of planning to ensure smart homes are protected from cyber criminals by the time hackers begin to see actual benefit in breaking in.

In terms of privacy, the challenges are twofold – on one hand, the vast amounts of data sharing which would come along with the growing popularity of Internet of Things devices, will raise concerns about how this data will be stored, tracked and analysed – a matter which companies producing the devices will be tasked with resolving as IoT continues to develop. On the other hand, the new tech trend will also bring about significant social and regulatory challenges – with sensor-embedded machines increasing the amount of information companies can find out about us, and we can find about each other, some sort of regulation will likely need to be put in place to deal with any emerging ‘Big Brother’ problems.

So in summary, this question is difficult to answer at this moment in time – while you are unlikely to face any serious cyber threats after installing a smart meter, the amount of work being done to ensure smart homes are secure in the future needs to increase significantly before we can say for certain the Internet of Things won’t become a target for cyber-attacks in the future.

To learn more about ways to boost the cyber security of your business and protect it from cyber-attacks, browse our IT Security section, or get in touch with the CSG team.

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