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The Internet of Things

To me, the Internet of Things (IoT) is all about my front door knowing when it's ME walking up to it and unlocking automatically. It's about my house knowing that I will be home soon and turning on my heating so it's nice and cozy when I get back home.

Totally selfish way of looking at the internet of things, but that’s what IoT is supposed to be, something for everyone, something for everyTHING.

According to TechTarget, the internet of things is “a scenario in which objects, animals or people are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.”

The internet of things has suddenly become a thing in its own right over the last few years as we have seen key technologies converge on each other.

First of all wireless technologies have gotten faster, able to carry more data with less power. Then MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems) have gotten cheaper and both of these collided with the internet.

Next thing you know, we have an internet of THINGS.

A THING in the IoT can be almost anything really. It can be a person with a heart monitor implant. It can be a farm animal with a transponder or a car that has built-in sensors to let the driver know his tire pressure is low.

Any natural or man-made object that geeks figure out how to assign an IP address and connect to the internet properly is shortly going to be a THING.

So far we have seen the IoT at work in the manufacturing, power and oil and gas industries where it is mainly used to let machines talk to other machines or machine-to-machine (M2M) communication in geekspeak.

Products built with M2M capabilities are often referred to as being smart, which brings us neatly back to the hub of this new IoT, your smartphone.

Your smartphone screen is the perfect device to display all manner of notifications and readings from all kinds of internet connected things. If you thought that your smartphone beeped and buzzed too much now, just wait.

In a very short space of time, your smartphone is going to start letting you know that your kitchen appliances need you. Your refrigerator is going to tell you that it's out of milk, your dryer when your clothes are dry.

Then you have all your personal, home and business safety technologies. All those burglar alarms, fire and smoke alarms, fire hydrants, security cameras and sensor equipped safes will all soon be able to report in.

Fine, you think, that seems reasonable, I need to know all this stuff.

But wait, it gets worse.

As if those were not quite enough notifications from internet connected things, then you have to take into account all of your personal fitness devices, the various straps, sensors and whatnot that measure your steps, sleep, weight, blood pressure and any other thing we can think of measuring.

All those are going to bleep at you much more than they did too!
Then there are a million things we cannot see, but which all need to be assigned an IP address and connected to the internet.

You have all your lighting and heating products, including bulbs, thermostats and air conditioners. They will all need to phone home and leave you some sort of message.

How about just driving around? Think of all your toll road payments, congestion penalties and parking space fees (if you have to deal with these things like me). You guessed it, it's all going to become a lot smarter, automated and capable of communicating with you.

Don’t forget about waste management systems, such as garbage cans and recycle bins with RFID tags that allow sanitation staff to see when garbage has been put out and a million other things we forgot about.
The Internet of Things is not all going to be good though. Of course it's not.

In our mad rush to connect absolutely everything to the Internet we forgot about hackers, those dastardly fiends determined to ruin everything.

You can almost imagine that they cannot just wait to touch our things without us knowing.

Steve Banker of Forbes likes to scare people with these sorts of concerns and says that “Cyber security tops the list when it comes to challenges for the Industrial Internet of Things.”

He isn’t kidding either. It has happened.

If you think about a hacker personally messing with you, turning your lights on and off when you are sleeping, or perhaps making you popcorn in the middle of the night, it doesn’t seem so serious. But it’s the industrial application of the internet of things that we worry about so much.

When one thinks of a hacker getting into a system and shutting down a utility, for example, it is obvious that the consequences of an IoT security breach could be dire.

Hackers already like hacking industrial systems and the industrial Internet of Things makes this problem so much greater.

Hackers need one hole in your security defenses to get in and as the number of internet connected things grows exponentially, so does the potential for hacker mischief.

Sure you may like to connect it to the internet, but does that actually mean it's going to be a good idea? Think hard about what you connect to the internet!