What is IoT (Internet of Things)?

Definition

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to devices around the world that automatically connect to the cloud and function by storing data or running commands from an online server. Most people have at least one IoT device. IoT comprises any cloud-connected device, including smart home automation, voice command devices (e.g., Alexa), cloud-connected appliances, health monitors, inventory and warehouse monitors and trackers, biometric cybersecurity, fire extinguishers, and any other device that incorporates the cloud into its functionality and reporting.

What is the Purpose of IoT?

Instead of relying on local device operations, IoT uses cloud resources to build reports, provide analysis, and store data. Using the cloud, IoT developers can store much more data and offer updates and new functionality remotely instead of forcing users to buy a new IoT device. Developers no longer worry about storage limitations because cloud-connected devices use remote servers with extensive storage capacity.

When devices rely on the cloud, developers can also push updates and patches. These patches could remediate discovered vulnerabilities or fix bugs causing the device to crash or become non-functional. The IoT device's continuous connection to the cloud enables developers to always have the capability to keep it updated, patched, and in touch with its data.

Why is the Internet of Things Called IoT?

The idea of cloud-connected devices has been around since the 1970s. Still, the term “Internet of Things” wasn’t introduced until 1999 by Kevin Ashton when he presented RFID (radio frequency identification) ideas to Proctor & Gamble senior management. Even though the term has been around for decades, it wasn’t until 2010 that it became a common term.

In 2011, Gartner described the “Internet of Things” as the next popular form of cloud devices. As the years passed, the IoT reference persisted and stuck. Now, any device that connects to the cloud is considered IoT, which has grown into a billion-dollar industry where many developers and manufacturers offer innovative solutions.

What is the Internet of Things in Simple Words?

If you’ve never used a cloud-connected device, it’s difficult to differentiate between IoT and a standard mobile device. A mobile device like a smartphone can connect to the Internet but doesn’t rely solely on the cloud for data storage and functionality. You can use a smartphone without an Internet connection and still work with local applications and store data on its storage drive.

IoT, however, relies on the cloud for much of its functionality. Take Amazon Alexa as an example. The Alexa algorithms are stored in the cloud, and any developer changes are deployed on Amazon’s servers to update its functionality. When you ask Alexa questions, it polls the cloud for answers and pulls the data that you want from the Amazon servers. If you want Alexa to play a song, it will stream the song from the Amazon servers. Storing all the data available from Alexa would require too much local drive space for its functionality to be a viable product.

You know you have an IoT device in your home when you must configure it for your local Wi-Fi connection during setup. IoT devices are an integral part of the business landscape as well. For example, cameras that monitor onsite activity at a bank or warehouse usually connect to the cloud. By storing images in the cloud, remote cybersecurity professionals can react to suspicious onsite activity and present that information to investigators or law enforcement.

Types of Iot Devices

Over the past decade, a wave of new IoT devices hit the market targeted at consumers and businesses alike. A simple Wi-Fi hotspot enabled IoT devices to bring technology into homes and businesses.  For example, you could use smart home technology to control your thermostat or use cybersecurity devices to monitor your business.

The Internet of Things has backend functionality that determines what it can do. A device programmed with artificial intelligence (AI) can answer questions, while a device equipped with machine learning (ML) can perform analytics. Not all devices have AI or ML, but complex decision-making processes work better with AI or ML. Thanks to developers, IoT devices are used for a broad range of significant purposes. A few of these applications include:

Smart Home Automation

Devices that control your air temperature, audio delivery, security systems, and lights are a part of smart home technology. Though specific to in-home systems, many of them can be controlled remotely from a smartphone.

Eldercare

Caring for the elderly can be difficult with the need for close monitoring. Monitors and disability alerts using IoT provide families the peace of mind that their loved ones are safe, and healthcare facilities can more easily track their activity and health.

Medical & Healthcare

From heart monitoring to diabetes medicinal delivery, IoT is especially useful in healthcare. It improves the quality of life for many patients and ensures that medicine is properly administered. These IoT devices monitor dangerous, life-threatening conditions and alert emergency medical professionals when a patient’s biometrics reaches a specific threshold.

Transportation

Communications across vehicles, tracking, traffic control, and toll collection can be improved using IoT devices. IoT has reduced traffic and improved the flow of vehicles, especially during peak hours during the week.

Agriculture

Growers responsible for optimal plant cultivation and harvesting leverage IoT to better control chemicals and environment variables necessary for plant life. IoT devices can control greenhouse temperature or humidity or delivery nutrients to plants automatically when certain conditions are met.

Cybersecurity

Cameras connected to the cloud and backed by AI analysis can monitor network infrastructure and onsite equipment. When an intruder is detected, the device can alert law enforcement and the right staff member who handles incidents.

Military Intelligence

The military uses IoT for protecting national interests. It reduces the risk of human life and makes surveillance more efficient. Military units that use IoT can send robotic equipment onto the battlefield without risking human life, and ground units can receive updated information more quickly to make better tactical decisions.

Securing IoT Devices

With attackers targeting IoT devices as a vector to access enterprise networks, organizations must take steps to secure these devices. A few strategies to secure IoT in the enterprise:

  • Keep Software Up to Date: Software vendors deploy patches to remediate vulnerabilities. Updating software ensures that your devices do not run outdated, vulnerable software.
  • Encrypt Connections: Every app and data transfer should encrypt data to avoid man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks and eavesdropping.
  • Use a System That Employs Device Discovery: Every device connected to the network should be logged with the ability to audit access whenever necessary. This strategy ensures that you have complete visibility of any IoT devices connected to the network.
  • Require Secure Passwords: Passwords that do not follow complexity and length requirements can be brute forced, which leads to compromise of the system.
  • Segment the network: For networks that use IoT, segment the system so that IoT devices cannot access other areas of the network such as finance or HR.
  • Monitor IoT Activity: Monitoring the network will provide insights on anomalies or other incidents that could lead to a compromise or other cybersecurity incident.