From 'Internet of Things' to 'Vulnerability of Things'

One doesn’t need to be a geek to understand that the IoT will produce a tectonic shift in the way we live, work, and run businesses. Analysts, market pundits, and companies have been busy making predictions about a new world of possibilities: everything around us connected...perhaps too connected. From our kitchen to the toilet, office spaces to the parking lot — every aspect of our life will come under the IoT umbrella with a promise to make our lives better and achieve things that will truly seem like magic.

Realizing this promise, 67% of Asia Pacific executives believe that IoT will have a significant impact on their business by the year 2020. What’s important to note is that Asian executives are almost doubly convinced about the impact of IoT in comparison to the global average of 35%. And their confidence only increases as they look to the future — 71% by 2025. It seems that Asia is raring to become the center of innovation for IoT.

But, there’s one catch: the region will also become the center of vulnerability. The IoT remains a work in progress when it comes to standardization, and presents persistent data privacy and security risks. Not to raise the alarm, but frankly things are about to get worse.

Before data is an asset, it is a liability. More connected devices mean exponential growth in the amount of personal and sensitive data generated. It is the force multiplier for IoT. However, this business-technology shift raises important questions: Who owns our data? Consumer/ hardware manufacturer/ software company/ service provider? If there is a tremendous breach of my privacy, whom should I hold accountable? Or who will ensure that my data (even if it’s anonymized) is not sold off to some third party? No one wants an advertisement for health or life insurance pointing out that they haven’t been exercising recently. Even toys are not safe — VTech, a Chinese toy manufacturer, admitted that 6.4 million kids were affected by a massive data breach. One can only imagine what hacker would be proud to say, “I hacked Barbie.”

We are living in an age where personal data is the key to honing a competitive edge, but companies don’t realize that lack of data ethics could have a long lasting impact on their brand and ultimately business. As the IoT takes shape, consumer trust will become the new battleground for digital success.

Security is more often an afterthought than an integral part of any IoT platform. But a single security breach on one device could infect an entire network. For instance, many installed devices rarely get upgraded since they were manufactured and have limited upgrade paths. This means connecting these devices to the internet creates a potential risk for unintended access or misuse. There have already been reports of cyber-attacks launched through connected refrigerators and malicious e-mails sent via household appliances. Now, your smart TV won’t turn into a super killing robot — yet — but there are other avenues for abuse.

We are still in the early days of the IoT revolution. While we mainly see the bright, shiny side of IoT as a futuristic utopia, there is a dark aspect to it which can quickly turn opportunities into threats. While IoT holds a big promise for what is still to come, we are not prepared for it. We need a lot more discussion sooner rather than later to address the privacy and security issues. These threats we’re already seeing will not only affect us as individuals, they will impact the organizations we work in and our overall society.

Undoubtedly, The IoT is here but it’s just not evenly distributed yet. IT departments and CIOs/CISOs who have not kept up with security standards in the region will fall behind in ways that will be nearly impossible to make up in the dynamic digital security landscape. While there is no such thing as 100% secure, we should not be settling for “limited” security. The IoT security role within IT departments will be a reality soon, if it isn’t already, and IoT should move from coffee table conversations to board room discussions and eventual decisions.

And in the meantime, may you be protected against the armies of toasters and refrigerators!