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This is the seventh article in our 10-part series for National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Look for new cybersecurity topics explained by Alpine Cyber experts every Tuesday and Thursday in October. 

Revisiting the Topic

Nearly 4 years ago I wrote a primer and deeper dive into the Internet of Things (IoT) explaining what it was and the security aspects you should consider when leveraging this class of technology. So how have things evolved in that time? What is still relevant and have things gotten better or worse?

Well here’s an update…

Consumer Exposure

For one, you don’t really hear the term IoT in the consumer world. IoT has been effectively replaced with “smart” or “connected.” Most TVs are now “smart TVs.” Browsing major retailers’ sites allows you to filter appliances by categories including “connected.” This is probably more of a marketing tactic but honestly it makes sense. IoT devices are smarter than their non-connected counterparts.

The field of smart and connected technology is more mature and more mainstream than it was 4 years ago. I believe there is still a fair amount of improvement to be seen in the way of smart device integration though.

My first IoT post considers a Jetsonian use case where a number of devices talk together ultimately rerouting your trip home to the supermarket for that almond milk. While the example isn’t 100% a reality today the truth is that each of the components in that fictional story is real now. Cars do alert drivers to alter their route for various reasons. We have dozens of apps on our smartphones that tell us where to get the best deal on things like groceries and gasoline. Refrigerators are now notifying people about the conditions inside the appliance and allow for remote administration to change things like ice amounts, temperature and humidity. Device browsing history is sync’d across all of our appliances now.

The thing lacking from my example – aside from a delivery drone – is the integration and intelligence to stitch the data and actions together. We are seeing services like IFTT and Zapier helping to bridge the gap. And other technologies including artificial intelligence and machine learning have really picked up steam. But that is for another blog post…

Let’s explore a few specific examples of IoT development and improvement.

Smart Watches and Medical Use Cases

The medical industry is still coming to grips with the amount of data that wearable technology produces. I recently had a conversation with my uncle who is a cardiologist and it was interesting to hear him downplay the clinical validity of things like the AppleWatch.

Now the AppleWatch can routinely scan and test heart rate and to check for cardiac sinus rhythms. To a consumer it could be the differentiator between seeking medical help or simply taking a break to relax and de-stress. To a medical professional it is simply a data point. No more – No less. I honestly look forward to continuing the immersion of digital sensors into our physical/biological environments. In my opinion, right now there are still too few data points to synthesize something holistic. The more sensors and workflows we adopt the more edge cases will become apparent and valid information becomes useful.

IoT Cloud Services

I suppose the biggest improvement in the IoT world has come not necessarily directly to the consumer but indirectly to them by ways of major cloud services making IoT development more powerful and accessible. Prior to my last posts AWS released their AWS IoT service making it possible to connect simple devices with and have those devices communicate via MQTT or trigger Lambda functions.

Since then AWS has released the following:

  • Polly (text-to-speech)
  • Rekognition (visual intelligence)
  • Lex (voice synthesis)
  • Translate
  • Transcribe
  • Ground Station (satellite command and control)
  • Textract (OCR)
  • Deeplens (a machine learning enabled camera)
  • DeepRacer (a machine learning enabled scaled car)

These technologies by themselves don’t classify directly as IoT. But they contribute to the vast ecosystem of capabilities that will propel the future of integrating and amplifying the capabilities of interconnected devices.

Vigilance Still Required

We still need to heed the same security warnings mentioned before. Smart devices are relying more and more on the power of cloud-based compute for their intelligence and these devices will most likely transfer your data to those services. The refrigerators and TVs I mentioned above are marketed as working with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Smart doorbells are now mainstream and provide a great benefit and risk to the safety and security of your home and family. I recently cut the cord and got rid of my cable plan. That requires me to plug my TV into my home network so I could get televised content from the internet.

So what can you do to ensure security while enjoying the benefits of these conveniences? Know what you are signing up for when you connect your TV or doorbell to your network. Trust no one. Follow my network segmentation recommendations.

The Internet of Things continues to gain steam. Smart or Connected devices are continuing to flood the market. We have a responsibility to ensure we do what we can to protect ourselves and our information.

Happy Cyber Security Awareness Month! If you missed our recent posts we covered cloud security, phishing attacks, vulnerability management, and identity theft tips. Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter for these and more cybersecurity topics each week.

Steven Pressman

Author Steven Pressman

Steve is responsible for the strategic direction of the company and its products. He serves as the chief solutions architect, coordinating architecture and DevOps efforts for cloud, hybrid, and on-premises infrastructures. Read his full bio here.

More posts by Steven Pressman