Like any technology, IoT has its realities, risks and rewards. While a software-defined, virtual New IP network promises the agility needed to support a more connected "smart" world, that smart world also comes with significant risks, including more opportunities for hackers to find an entry point to gain control of connected devices and even connected smart homes.
Among the forerunners in the world of the Internet of Things (IoT) are the various devices already on the market for use in smart homes. Retailers like Target are embracing the future not just in carrying smart products, but in exhibiting them in a special "Open House" designed to showcase the connected home.
The list of smart devices for the home is dizzying and encompasses a few subcategories such as home automation, smart utilities and home security. But according to Steve Bell, senior analyst at Heavy Reading, the reality is that true home automation is still a DIY for the early adopter.
The first category alone can cover thermostats, electric window blinds, Bluetooth-enabled light bulbs, Wi-Fi and ZigBee Alliance -enabled door locks and sensors for monitoring fluid spills from sump pumps or washing machines, says Bell.
In fact, there are so many component parts to a smart home that the problem is that they may not mesh together into a coherent system when they are based on different wireless technologies and different protocols.
Bell points out that some providers have done something on their end to address the problem of disconnected systems. For example, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) brings together bundles of security and home automation through its Xfinity platform, and unifies and simplifies the control for home automation and security. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) does the same with its Digital Life service. (See The New IP Way of Digital Life.)
Risks and rewards
Despite the convenience and efficiency provided by smart thermostats, water meters and the like, the question of risk hangs over the smart home industry. If connected systems are accessible over the web, can the wrong person gain access? Bell points out that service providers that provide home security services like Comcast, Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) or AT&T typically do build in security to their services.
Bell does concede, though, that there have been instances of hacking, but suggests that the benefits still outweigh the risks. He states that on balance it is better to have "the ability to remote lock doors or to utilize cameras to ensure that kids have safely entered the home" than not, even knowing that nanny cams are subject to hacking.
"The reality is that no company produces a system or component with the intent of it being hacked." Bell says. However, they are coming to greater awareness and starting to turn their systems over to third parties for testing, he says, adding that the question of vulnerabilities is a big issue for IoT that will have to be addressed.
"A cross pollination of ideas and approaches minimizes the potential threats and increase the effective safeguards that can be built into the systems," says Bell. He also suggests that rigorous monitoring to spot anything out of the norm is the way to play it safe.
When asked if it's possible to achieve a reasonable balance between being thoroughly connected through IoT and donning a tin hat to try to stay safe, so to speak, Bell said he believes so, particularly as technology progresses. (Listen to The M2M & IoT Impact.)
"IoT is still in its infancy and there are many aspects that need to be worked out, which is why adoption, in most cases, is at an early stage," he says, adding that there are many amazing opportunities for IoT to enhance our quality of life and consumers will embrace those once they feel comfortable and see the benefits versus the potential tradeoffs.
— Ariella Brown, Freelance Contributor, special to The New IP