If you have at least a little interest in IT, then you have probably heard of the Internet of Things.
When a layperson hears the word “IoT”, the first thought that likely comes to his mind is “It is about something smart” – smartphones, smartTV and so on. Indeed, the things around us have become so smart that they can not only perform their functions but also collect and analyze data, change the program without human intervention, adapting their algorithms to our desires.
The Internet of Things is much deeper and broader than it seems to be. Although most users still do not know how all that stuff works, why we need it, what to do about it, and what potential and real threats the Internet of things poses.
Let’s talk about it.
In this Internet of Things guide you will learn:
- How the Internet of Things has been developing;
- How its architecture works;
- In what spheres these wireless things are used;
- Can this technology be considered as safe and trustworthy;
- What problems it has.
… and a lot of other interesting things.
So, without further ado, let’s dive in it.
The idea of creating a technology, which could combine various devices in a single ecosystem, where all of these devices could collect, analyze, and share data without human intervention, originated in the 70s. In those days this technology is called “pervasive computing”. And it took several decades of intensive development that mankind can talk about the Internet of Things in the ordinary sense.
The first such “thing” was invented in 1990 (it was the connected toaster, which was able to be turned on and off remotely). But the actual definition “the Internet of Things” was coined by Kevin Ashton, a British technology pioneer, during his work at Procter&Gamble. It was he who defined the idea of a system where the Internet is connected to the world through ubiquitous sensors.
In 2000, the South Korean company LG created the first refrigerator connected to the Internet, which also could be controlled remotely. And in 2007, the first FitBit fitness tracker was developed, which was able to measure users’ physical activity and track their health.
According to CISCO, in 2008 the number of “things” exceeded the number of people. That year is considered to be the switch from the Internet of People to the Internet of Things. According to forecasts, by 2015 the estimated number of connected devices will have reached 50.
By 2011 the largest corporations such as Google, Microsoft, Intel had created their own IoT departments. And after 2013 even small companies have begun to produce “the things”.
But there was a problem in this regard. As connected devices were producing throughout by different companies, they were often incompatible with each other. In order to improve the compatibility of the devices and to establish the general standards, in 2014 the consortium of the “IoT giants” was created.
Since 2017, a significant leap has been made in the development of the industrial Internet of Things. General Motors tested the first unmanned taxi, and it is planned to create full-fledged unmanned vehicles by the beginning of 2021.
The Internet of Things has a great potential to completely change the world. Is it good or bad? Let’s figure it out.
Although IoT technology has many vulnerabilities (best VPNs can solve this problem), the rapid growth of the IoT and its applications can be a bit intimidating. According to Techjury, there are expected to be more than 64B IoT devices worldwide by 2025. Of course, this number may confuse a layperson. However, in 2017, the number of connected things reached 10 billion. This is impressive, especially considering that it is more than the number of mobile phones in use worldwide.
A significant leap in the IoT development is expected after 2021 with 5G on the horizon. By this time the number of connected devices will have reached 25 billion. Is the rise of the Robots coming?
Nowadays, when you are going back home, it’s enough to press a button on your smartphone, and by the time you come in, the coffee will be made, the food will be warmed up, the necessary programs on the TV will be on. And that’s only the beginning!
Besides, enterprises and companies also implement IoT solutions into their processes. This trend has a positive impact on the industries and improved operational efficiency, productivity, created new business prospects. According to GrandViewResearch, the industrial Internet of Things market has been divided into manufacturing, agriculture, energy and power, logistics and transport, oil and gas, healthcare, and other.
Like any technology, the Internet of Things has some problems that hinder its development. However, a lot of big companies are interested in solving these problems:
According to Gartnet researches, IoT-based hacker attacks are already an everyday reality. The survey showed that nearly 20% of companies observed at least one such attack in the past 3 years.
Besides, it is one thing when an intruder attacks connected things of a common user, and another when he attacks a giant organization. The consequences of hacker attacks on a nuclear power plant or oil derrick might be irreversible.
The actionable solution of this problem is additional protection. For example, there are a lot of cheap VPNs, that can be install on the definite thing you want to protect from malware or on the router.
The lack of standardization remains the main problem of the IoT industry. There is one technology is for one IoT application, and the second is for another. For example, manufacturers from Europe use Z-wave, while American manufacturers use Zigbee, and the companies located in Singapore prefer to build their stuff on LoRa. It is like buying a cutting edge refrigerator in a house with no suitable socket to turn it on.
Here is the deal: when you are connected to everything, the chances that your data will be stolen is increased. When one of the smart devices is hacked, all personal information can be intercepted. For example, if hackers manage to attack smartTV with a microphone and camera, they will be able to watch the users or listen to them without their concern. In order to protect your devices you can install a VPN for Android, IOS, Windows, Kodi and others.
The IoT systems are complicated in terms of design, deployment, and maintenance that cause high prices. A microwave with Internet access will cost 1-1.5 times more expensive than a standard one. The good news is that the prices of the IoT sensors are decreasing as far as that technology has been developing. According to The Atlas, in 2004 the average cost of the sensors was $1.30, then in 2015 it reached 0.50 cents, and in 2019 it was already 0.37 cents. Therefore, I can predict that the affordability of these gadgets will increase.
5. Degradation of humanity due to the critical simplification of life.
If you laughed having read about this problem, it means that you are, like many other people, do not take this threat seriously. And how wrong you are! The fact is that the IoT industry is growing rapidly and these devices more and more simplify our lives. Do you remember the cartoon “WALL-E”, where robots performed all the tasks, so people became so fatty that they hardly got out of their seats? That is what I am talking about!
Most gadgets cannot work without human interaction. They have to be enabled and charged, also a user has to download some software into them for convenient use. The IoT system is free from all that problems, it is designed to predict the next step of its “master”, and turn the necessary device on and off, analyzing the importance of its actions. Where these smart gadgets are used I have told in the chapter “How did IoT change the world?”
To make it clearer, I will give a few Internet of Things examples.
- Home and security.
The smart home space fascinates me most. First of all, because it promises to transform the way we live. Secondly, it represents great start up opportunities for companies and businesses. The current statistic shows that 47% of Americans already own some smart devices, and 70% of those, who have already bought one gadget is going to buy another one. According to Smart Home Survey, 48% of more than 2,000 respondents said that they are interested in smart home products.
The term “smart home” became widespread. The system includes various smart devices (thermostats, plugs, doorbells, outlets, locks and so on) integrated into a single ecosystem, which, nevertheless, is capable of acting autonomously. “Smart Home” combines all the data provided by the devices and displays it in a user-friendly form.
Smart refrigerators allow you to re-order food due to built-in sensors, smart doorbells broadcast live video to their owners` phones when someone approaches the door, smart bulbs allow to change the lights depending on the daytime, mood or what music is playing.
IoT is widespread in home security. For example, Canary Smart Security System combines audio, video, motion detection, temperature, humidity sensors, a siren, and night vision into one device controlled from a smartphone.
- Urban Planning.
Smart car parks, noise maps, smart lighting, and smart roads are among the urban IoT technologies. Although this group of IoT is mainly in its infancy, it has great prospects. As it moves ahead, mankind will be able to increase safety, control traffic and pollution.
You probably use navigation systems to find direction in an automobile – it is the Internet of Things as well. Smart systems show vehicle speed, help to pave the most appropriate route and warn about traffic jams.
IoT in medicine allowed to improve the accuracy of service delivering and transform the quality of medical services. Thus, connected lenses are a reality. Due to inbuilt sensors, they can analyze tears and route the information on the patients` health state to their doctors. Various activity trackers are used for instant access to the data on blood pressure, appetite, fatigue, cardio rhythm.
The Internet of Things in agriculture is successfully used in Europe and America. The smart systems monitor moisture and temperature of soil, seedlings and other parameters, routing the data to storage on a cloud platform.
You probably cannot wait to find out how the Internet of things works.
The technology implies that it is a person who defines a goal but it is the thing that sets the program to achieve that goal (analyzing the data and predicting the person`s desires).
I will give you an example.
Let’s pretend that you are going home from work, you are tired and hungry. And the car informs the house that in half an hour it will bring you to the nest, as though saying “get ready”. At that time, the light turns on, the thermostat adjusts the comfortable temperature, dinner is prepared in the oven. Welcome home!
But how all that stuff does work?
Actually, the Internet of Things architecture includes four main components:
- THINGS. The things are all devices that collect data via embedded sensors. The sensors detect events, a person`s state or changes in the environment and send collected data through the Internet.
- NETWORKS/CONNECTIONS. Internet connectivity combines all connected devices in order to get the data to the center or the cloud where it is analyzing. Most IoT devices connect via Wi-Fi but some of them use Bluetooth, cellular, satellite, LPWAN and other methods.
- DATA PROCESSING CENTER. When the cloud got the data, its software performs processing on it. This process could be simple, such as checking that the temperature in the flat is within an acceptable range, or it could be complex, such as identifying the objects in front of the door.
- USER INTERFACE. Next, that information has to become useful for a user in some way. It can be a voice alert, SMS or email notification. For example, a user may receive a text message when it becomes colder in the kid`s room. Moreover, some Internet of Things applications allows users to check in on the system proactively, for example, in order to check the video stream from their house via a smartphone or laptop. However, it is not always “one-way street”. Users can affect the system, for example, they can adjust the temperature in the house, etc.
Digital transformation encompasses various industries in many countries around the globe — such technologies as artificial intelligence (AL), the Internet of things, Robotic Process Automation, Blockchain are already widespread and promise us the emergence of smart, safe, and efficient systems.
Artificial intelligence is being introduced in many systems from quantum computers to household equipment. Such systems acquire the ability to “think” quickly and independently, act within the frameworks of the existing limitations.
A good example of the perfect collaboration between IoT, Al, and Blockchain technologies is a smart refrigerator. The refrigerator monitors the food inside itself with the help of embedded sensors, the blockchain guarantees the integrity of data that gets to the system, and the Al predicts actions and issues recommendations. Chatbots inform the user and the suppliers that it is time to order fresh milk or throw away the spoiled chicken. No technology can solve all these problems separately.
By that moment, LG has already developed about hundreds of household appliances with voice activation that are compatible with the Google Home service. And IBM`s Deep Blue system won chess tournament against Garry Kasparov. That is only the beginning!
IoT Platforms: What You Need To Know
IoT Platform is an integrated service that provides you the things you need to bring objects online. The right platform has to allow you to configure the devices for machine-to-machine communications, support many simultaneous connections, and provide all the integrations you need – cloud connection, cellular modem, etc.
“We are a full-stack, serverless, cross-functional, fully-integrated, Al IoT Platform that offers you a perfect infrastructure…” said every IoT Platform website.
The fact is that it is a really hard job to create a well-functioning IoT product, mostly because of the difficulties in choosing the right platform which the product has to base on. When examining platforms developers have to pay attention to many factors, such as:
- connectivity and the method of connectivity;
- type of service;
- market longevity (how long a platform is in business);
- geographic coverage;
- data plan;
- security and privacy;
- OTA Firmware Updates and other factors.
There are many types of IoT platforms. I have tried to categorize them.
End-to-End Platforms (Cisco, Partical) provide everything you need: hardware, software, device management tools, and security that allow them to handle millions of IoT gadgets connections.
Connectivity Management Platforms (for example, Sigfox, Hologram, Mulesoft) offer low power connectivity solutions via Wi-Fi and cellular technologies.
IoT Cloud Platforms (Google Cloud’s IoT Platform, IBM, Alibaba Cloud) are the most popular nowadays. Most of the IoT “giants” use cloud solutions for building their products. They allow you to get rid of the complexity of the building your own stack and provide the back-end services to monitor simultaneous connections.
The fears of the common users concerning the security of the Internet of Things are not paranoid. Besides, some experts also note that IoT brings new challenges to society.
The lack of standardization plays into the hands of cybercriminals. The Mirai botnet showed that routers, cameras, and even smart baby monitors by coming together are capable of organizing a large-scale DDoS attack. IoT devices are vulnerable. Hackers realized that if they could not get access to your computer or laptop, due to an installed VPN for Windows, Linux or another OS, then they can sneak into your vacuum cleaner or coffee maker. There are a great number of malware designed for IoT ecosystems: Hydra, Tsunami, Psybot, Troyan.Linux.Pnscan, brickerbot, gafgut, and others.
Does IoT Collect and Store Data?
Obviously, like any other device with Internet access, those things collect, store and analyze data. Actually, their architecture is based on this principle.
Your smart tracker knows where you are, your vacuum cleaner makes your home scheme, and your microwave identifies what food you prefer and what time you come back home from work. Is it worth saying that intruders or advertises can use all this data for their own purposes?
That is why we should secure “the things” as careful as computers.
Can you install a VPN on the IoT devices?
If you are slightly interested in data security, then you have probably heard of a VPN technology. A Virtual Private Network creates an encrypted Internet connection, which makes your traffic inaccessible to criminals. Even if a hacker manages to position himself in the middle of your connection, the only thing he will see is a set of numbers and letters since all the information is encrypted. Decryption is impossible because it is the VPN which holds the encryption keys.
You probably know that installing a VPN on your computer could not only encrypts the traffic but also hide your real location, spoofing your IP address.
But is this technology available for the Internet of Things?
Sure! Moreover, there are several ways to secure the IoT ecosystem with a VPN.
1. Install a VPN on the device. Nowadays, there are a lot of VPN providers for various platforms. You can find VPNs for any platform. For example, if you have a TV-BOX you can easily install a VPN for Kodi (as a bonus you can watch geo-restricted content). As for game consoles, you can choose from a wide range of VPNs for gaming.
But what to do if you have a lot of “connected devices” at your place and you do not want to create a separate VPN connection for each one?
2. Install a VPN on your router. It is the easiest way to protect all the gadgets simultaneously. Thus, all devices in your home Wi-Fi network will connect to the Internet through an encrypted VPN tunnel. Configuring VPN on a router is easy and you have to do it only once.
The IoT industry develops fast… very fast. I am a big fan of new technologies, so for me that fact is more good than harm. And what does the Internet of Things mean for you?