The Cost of Convenience: Pros and Cons of the Internet of Things
Learn more about the promise and the perils of the internet of things (IoT). Explore the benefits of the IoT, such as convenience, safety and health; and the risks, including data theft and other forms of criminality.
- Smart grid
Every new technology has its pros and its cons.
With the internet of things (IoT), it’s pretty clear that there’s a balance to strike between the obvious benefits and the unintended consequences of being surrounded by devices that are constantly connected to the internet.
The Pros: Convenience, Safety, Health
On a personal level, the network of IoT devices can be incredibly convenient. Tasks you have to remind yourself of every day—turn off the oven, feed the cat, switch off all the lights as you leave the house—could be virtually forgotten as they become automated. IoT can also promote greater personal productivity through mobile payments (saving time and effort) and time-management apps. Disney World now offers wearable wristbands that allow guests to check into the park, buy food and souvenirs, and access rides and attractions without having to carry tickets or money. These wristbands also have the added benefit of allowing Disney to track its guests’ movements through the park, increasing safety and letting Disney see which rides are the most popular. view citation
IoT devices can also greatly increase personal and home safety. Remote home monitoring makes it much easier to ensure home security. If your phone gets a message saying “your front door was just opened,” and you can immediately view the live camera feed of your front door, you might be able to stop a burglary in progress. view citation
From a medical perspective, there are huge benefits to using IoT devices to track your health trends. For instance, a smart bed can monitor your sleep, track the amount of high-quality sleep you get at night and potentially alert you to previously undiagnosed medical issues like sleep apnea. view citation Wearable fitness trackers can monitor your heart rate, count your steps per day, measure the distance you’ve traveled and calculate how many calories you’ve burned to help you stay fit and healthy. view citation In a health care setting such as a hospital, IoT devices can track a wide range of health information to save lives. view citation
From an environmental perspective, IoT devices can facilitate immense cost and energy savings. view citation Smart thermostat systems can identify which rooms require the most cooling or heating, and they can track the times of day when you tend to use certain areas of your house. By adjusting temperatures according to needs in real time, a smart thermostat can reduce electricity use and save money. When it comes to larger energy implications, systems like the smart grid—the internet-connected electricity grid that uses input from IoT sensors to respond to local changes in usage—can allow us to optimize energy usage by routing power according to changing electricity demands. view citation The potential energy savings from this kind of large-scale IoT implementation are astronomical.
The Cons: Data Theft, Extortion
The same devices and information that can help us can also make us vulnerable. Data can show when we are asleep, when we are awake, where we are going, and how fast we are getting there. When this data enables services we want, we may be happy to provide it, but there are instances in which our connected devices and the data they collect might be used against us.
Imagine a casino floor, colorful and bustling and loud, echoing with cheers and groans as gamblers win big or lose it all. Now imagine that in the quiet back rooms, behind closed doors, the casino management is panicking because their data—including the personal information of their high-roller clients—has been breached. After some frantic cyber-forensic investigation, it’s discovered that the data was stolen by a hacker who exploited a vulnerability in a Wi-Fi-connected fish-tank thermometer, of all places (This really happened). view citation
The connected sensors of the IoT are everywhere; there’s no avoiding it. And in a lot of cases, we shouldn’t try to. IoT sensors drink in data about our habits, our activities and our bodies, giving us more information about ourselves and ultimately keeping us safer and healthier. We just don’t want all that data falling into the wrong hands—which, it turns out, is a very valid concern.
Many IoT devices have been released on the market without sufficient cybersecurity protection, view citation which means malicious hackers could break into them to learn personal information about you—and in certain cases, they could do worse than that.
Take a typical wireless-enabled digital picture frame, for instance. If you had one of these devices on your desk at work, where you’re connected to your company’s wireless network, and if a hacker gained remote access to your picture frame while it was connected to the company’s Wi-Fi, the hacker would then be connected to the company’s Wi-Fi remotely. This could potentially allow them to hack into the company’s databases or financial systems—all by hacking into the device displaying your family photos. view citation
Hackers can also use insecure IoT devices for more global ends. Hackers use botnets—networks of private computers infected with malicious software, and controlled as a group without the owners’ knowledge—to perform such tasks as sending spam messages or phishing emails.
Incorrect17 Facts About IoT
Imagine you lived in a smart home filled with IoT devices that were suddenly wrested from your control and used to launch malicious attacks on major web services. The best malware infections are invisible to the everyday user, so might never even know your refrigerator was being used for data theft or extortion. Now imagine hackers taking control of IoT devices used on a much larger scale, in industries like water treatment and the stock market. The consequences could be catastrophic.
Unfortunately, IoT devices like these often have less security than the personal computers we’ve meticulously protected through time. view citation We’ve gotten pretty good at security on computers; for example, nobody has launched a nuclear missile by hacking into our defense system, and most people now feel free to shop and bank online. Not so for IoT devices. That’s why the field needs more tech personnel who can improve existing devices and develop safer, more secure new devices.
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“Ring’s latest smart doorbell installs on your door’s peephole and detects knocks.” The Verge. January 2019. View Source
“Innovation and the IoT Are Making Our Beds Really Smart.” Engadget. August 2016. View Source
“How IoT Is Shaping the Future of Fitness.” IoT For All. October 2018. View Source
“Hospitals Get ‘Smart’ With IoT Technology.” R&D. September 2017. View Source
“The effect of the Internet of Things on sustainability.” World Economic Forum. January 2018. View Source
“Internet of Things-enabled Devices and the Grid.” U.S. Department of Energy. June 2017. View Source
“Hackers stole a casino’s high-roller database through a thermometer in the lobby fish tank.” Business Insider. April 2018. View Source
“Strengthening the Cybersecurity of the Internet of Things.” NIST. April 2019. View Source
Interview with Matthew Britton, associate cyber researcher at CMU’s Software Engineering Institute, CERT Division.
“History repeating: How the IoT is failing to learn the security lessons of the past.” ZDNet. October 2016. View Source