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Has the IoT Gone OTT?

Friday 2 September 2016

Imagine this scenario: you wake up one morning and brew yourself a fresh, pod-based coffee. While basking in the decadence of your velvety beverage you glance back into the cupboard and a harsh reality dawns: you are running low on pods. This is no ordinary coffee. You cannot simply leave the house to restock the cupboards with copious amounts of finely ground Arabica produce as this particular blend is an online exclusive. How can this situation be quickly rectified and feng shui restored?

The answer, of course, is to embrace the Internet of Things (IoT).

Encompassing the latest IoT innovation, Amazon has rolled out its new ordering service, Amazon Dash, to the UK. With the press of a button, items such as toilet roll and coffee pods are electronically ordered and delivered within 24 hours, allowing users to replenish everyday items without leaving the house or visiting a website.

How successful this implementation of absurd convenience will be remains to be seen. While the ironic inconvenience of queuing at a local delivery office due to missing a delivery of dishwasher tablets may prove too much for some, few will doubt Amazon’s ability to influence online shopping trends.

This new IoT device represents a major shift in the way in which devices around the home are connected. When Amazon first launched in 1995, it claimed to be ‘Earth’s biggest bookstore’, now it is leading the revolution against traditional shopping habits and championing ultra-convenient order processes powered by a huge logistical network – all made possible by the IoT.

This is just one instance. Light bulbs, house alarms, speakers, surveillance cameras and central heating monitors are just some examples of the electronic devices given internet access and subsequent remote control. Has the IoT gone OTT?

Some think so. With its relatively fast evolution, many IoT devices are simply not ready for the security risks that the internet poses. The Director at Corero Network Security, Sean Newman, noted how many IoT devices have barely enough processing power to connect and deliver core functionality, with security not considered a relevant factor. This fear was realised when US retailer, Target, were hacked in 2013 through the vulnerabilities of an internet-enabled climate-control system.

The real threat that hackers pose to IoT devices was highlighted in an experiment where a car was remotely controlled, with the exploit allowing remote access of in-car functionality while it was being driven. In the experiment, the car was being driven at 70 mph before the screen wash was activated, the radio turned up to maximum volume and the accelerator pedal disabled – all possible over a remote internet connection. With certain manufacturers opting for masses of features without considering the sizeable security risks, thousands of cars have been shipped with entertainment systems open to remote hacking that could prove fatal.

As the real selling point of the IoT is its widespread integration with a seemingly limitless device list, the risks become more widespread. Bruce Schneier, Chief Technology Officer at Resilient, makes a point that ‘The next president will probably be forced to deal with a large-scale internet disaster that kills multiple people’, conveying the real fears that go hand-in-hand with an increasingly connected, and therefore vulnerable, everyday environment.

When the famously misquoted, likely satirical ‘everything that can be invented has been invented’ was coined, its creator was blissfully unaware of a future where convenient coffee machines and ‘smarter’ appliances were sought-after devices. For the IoT revolution to maintain its current trajectory, however, its wild ambition must be scaled to accommodate the security to match the features available.

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