Buzzword Translator: Internet of Things (IoT)

Posted on Dec 6, 2016
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By Paul Hirsch, Senior Technology Strategist

Did you know that there are already more networked devices than people? Did you know that it is projected that by 2020 there will be eight times more networked devices than people? IoT is a HUGE market! Wait, soooooo…. what IS IoT? As with cloud, IoT represents a lot of really useful technologies grouped with a comically vague buzzword. Examples of devices in the IoT category include:

  • Your Internet connected printer
  • Your Internet connected game console or video streaming device
  • Your Internet connected thermostat
  • Your Internet connected security camera
  • Your Internet connected baby monitor
  • Your Internet connected car
  • Your Internet connected Internet connection device
  • Your Internet connected house robot “Jerry”
  • All Internet connected devices produced by Cyberdyne systems, which will gain consciousness on August 29th, 1997 at 2:14 a.m. ET (*They are running a bit behind schedule, but you will know when it happens cause Jerry will be a real jerk)

Can you spot the subtle common thread? Yes: “Internet” (“Cloud” is implied as well, since many of these connect to a cloud service.) With great connectivity comes great responsibility, but many IoT products have fallen into the same traps that servers, PCs, and smart phones have before them. Some of the problems are built in by the manufacturers, but others are caused by customers.  Recognize any of these classics?

  • “I depend on THING for my very existence, so I bought the cheapest WiFi access point I could find, used an Ethernet hub I fished out of a dumpster, and connected everything with Cat1D.” (D is for duct tape)
  • “The security of THING is critical, so I didn’t change the default password. Also, what is a ‘Firewall’?”
  • “I care about being a good Internet citizen, so I have never and will never update the software on THING.”
  • “THING makes me complete and has lights and stuff. I will sell my arm for a new THING. I will not spend a dime on a UPS to keep THING from being fried by lightning.”

Sounds like the same list when dealing with computers, right? That is because IoT devices are just computers. They usually run a Linux derivative or one of a handful of real time commercial operating systems. On that base they add some custom software, sometimes written with little thought given to safe programming practice or basic information security. Then they spit out thousands of them to sit on unprotected networks, never get updated, and generally be neglected. In some cases they are politely asked (using default usernames and passwords) to join a botnet, later being used to help carry out massive DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks like the multiple record setting DDoS attacks carried out by Mirai botnet controlled cameras in the last months.

The truth is that IoT in a business setting needs all the same things anything connected to the Internet needs: A well designed, secure, reliable, monitored, and managed network built to meet current and future needs. Firewalls, switches, wireless, cabling and infrastructure, power and cooling, physical security, network design, cloud services, and managed services must be considered for every IoT deployment.

IoT devices are computers and must be taken just as seriously. Let that thought be your guide with whatever types of T you want to connect to the I.