IT Pro Panel: How the IoT will change your business

Our panel of experts discusses the pros and cons of the Internet of Things

Many of these changes are happening now, meaning they're just the very start of how the IoT could shake up various industries.

But Cochrane speculates on a culture shift to come as a result of machine-to-machine communication.

"Personally I see a huge cut back on wastage looming, with far less duplication of hardware and far more sharing of resources across and between companies," he tells us.

This "social network of things", as he puts it, relies on competing firms being happy to give each other access to their pools of resources.

Even if you consider this scenario unlikely, the benefits are hard to argue with.

"Suppose my people need a facility, a piece of equipment or whatever because ours is broken," he posits.

"Could the IoT automatically locate the nearest neighbour so we could negotiate a loan or short term use?"

He points out that militaries do this already, swapping components and subsystems for aircraft and weapons on the hop.

What's stopping us?

However, while the IoT is no longer an idea confined to the pages of science fiction, it's far from having reached its potential.

Numerous barriers exist to being able to implement it successfully, the panel warns.

Security

As Donkin says, "these devices need to be considered both untrusted, and unreliable".

That's because IoT-enabled machines are physical devices that people can tamper with.

While modern datacentres are very well protected with security perimeters and fingerprint scanners, billions of these devices will be in your shops, your vehicles, and in customers' hands, making securing them a real headache.

"Above and beyond authentication of devices, and protection of data in transit, it's important to track provenance of data and have a strategy for dealing with hijacked' devices," Donkin recommends.

On the bright side, IT consultancy Bloor's chief advisor to the CIO, Kevin Borley, points out that embedded security measures are improving all the time.

"[Companies are] now designing chips which will embed sophisticated security," he tells us. "New communications protocols will change how things are secured for the better."

What about the risk of being hacked?

The last three years have seen a huge number of data breaches affecting companies like Sony, Target and TalkTalk, leaving their reputations tarnished and bank balances rather lighter than before, thanks to fines or customer settlements.

TechUK's David points out: "Some of the industries best placed to benefit from IoT have not traditionally been the most tech savvy.

"This will need to change to ensure they understand and are prepared for new threats to their business, such as cyber-attacks and data theft."

So just how big an opportunity does the IoT present to hackers?

A pretty big one, claims Quocirca's Longbottom.

"Very small, very cheap devices will be built to a price, and security will be of a low priority," he says. 

"Blackhats will know that these devices offer a new attack vector for them, and they will be trying to crack through via these devices as much as they can."

But there are measures you can take starting with an intelligent IoT architecture.

Longbottom adds:  "Although the devices themselves may be relatively insecure, the local hubs can be made far more secure, so that the higher cost of building in security is shared across multiple IoT devices. 

"This requires agreement on what security needs to be provided and how via such hubs."

Data in transit

Analyst Mike Davis, of MSMD Advisors, points out that there's no blanket approach to security measures it all depends on the type of data you're trying to protect.

"The important thing to remember is that not all data needs to be secure," he says. "Security needs to be appropriate to the information collected and its importance to the business."

This approach should ensure you don't spend too much on developing a security solution that won't be needed for some types of information, or that won't work with other datasets.

Customer privacy

Securing data will avoid some hefty fines, especially as the EU considers introducing a penalty worth up to 5 per cent of your turnover.

But just as vital a reason to not get hacked is to protect your customers' privacy.

Davis says: "The vast majority of people would not be worried about others seeing how much renewable energy they were producing, but they would be concerned that everyone can see where they have been because of the tracking on their mobile phone."

BCS president Creese concurs, adding: "Connections made across components and other data which compromises privacy [are a real threat]."

This issue is one of customer trust. Social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and even Google will argue they provide good services in exchange for customer information.

But this line of thinking has been tempered somewhat by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden, whose revelations about the extent of government spying include PRISM, the programme that collected swathes of user data from US web companies.

Creese claims this is one issue technology cannot solve. Instead, it'll be a mix of getting the right laws and good behaviour from companies or public bodies.

"Legislation in favour of the individual, not the corporate' will help," he explains. "But trust will come from personal experience in public and private sectors protecting data, not abusing trust, [promoting] openness."

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