Just What IS the Internet of Things?

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You’ve probably heard of the “Internet of Things” or IoT, and you likely use IoT devices on a regular basis, but you may be wondering what the IoT is exactly. Is it the next evolution in the internet?

The internet landscape is burgeoning. It’s not just about computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones anymore. Now a multitude of devices are internet-connected.

The internet has become an integral part of our daily lives, and it has grown at lightning speed. From 1995 to 2016, the number of internet users grew from 44 million to 3.4 billion.

If you take a second to really think about it, it actually wasn’t that long ago when going on the internet involved waiting for the phone line to be free, typing in your user name and password, hearing that chirp-chirp dial-up sound, and then feeling a sense of relief when you heard the male robot voice say “you’ve got mail.”

Broadband internet made things a lot easier. You could make a call and be on the web at the same time, and it no longer felt like an epic quest to do something like download a song you heard on the radio.

The internet became faster, more user-friendly, and more and more people started to see its advantages. According to Speedtest.net, United States data during Q2 and Q3 of 2018 reveals a 35.8% increase in mean download speed during the last year and a 22.0% increase in upload speed.

In the United States alone, the average download speed over fixed broadband in the U.S. was 95.25 Mbps. Average upload speed was 32.88 Mbps. Of course that would depend on your local carrier.

Today, people are surprised to hear if another person doesn’t use the internet. As of 2018, roughly 9 out of 10 adults in the U.S. use the ‘net, and we don’t just use it on our computers. The Internet of Things has become a part of our daily lives as well.

What exactly is the Internet of Things?

By definition, the IoT is “the interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data.” In other words, the IoT is connecting your stuff to the internet or to other stuff so it can do new stuff outside of the stuff it can already do (like control your stuff remotely and receive alerts and status updates about all your stuff).

Yes, that’s lots of stuff.

What are IoT devices?

Things like smart light switches, smart thermostats, smart locks, home security cameras, and smart appliances are IoT devices. Smart homes products, from robot vacuums to smart pressure cookers, are all IoT devices.

Think of it this way: If it can connect to the internet or to some other device or network of devices that connects to the internet, and it’s not a computing device that would be expected to have an internet connection in order to perform its primary functions, it probably fits the bill.

How do Voice Assistants like Alexa fit into the equation?

Devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home are IoT devices. However, Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa can control more smart home products than Google Assistant or Siri. Alexa is present in the Echo devices, as well as other gadgets like headphones and thermostats.

Amazon appears to be competing to have Alexa become an IoT operating system where smart home consumers go to control their lights, locks, vacuums, cameras, and appliances all in one place.

What’s next for the IoT?

  1. By 2025, it is estimated that there will be more than to 21 billion IoT devices

A quick look back shows where IoT devices are going. Consider: In 2016, there were more than 4.7 billion things connected to the internet, according to IOT Analytics. Fast-forward to 2021? The market will increase to nearly 11.6 billion IoT devices.

  1. Cybercriminals will continue to use IoT devices to facilitate DDoS attacks

In 2016, the world was introduced to the first “Internet of Things” malware — a strain of malicious software that can infect connected devices such as DVRs, security cameras, and more. The Mirai malware accessed the devices using default password and usernames.

What happened next? The malware turned the affected devices into a botnet to facilitate a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, which aims to overwhelm websites with internet traffic. The attack ended up flooding one of the largest website hosting companies in the world, bringing a variety of major, well-known websites and services to a halt for hours.

This particular strain of malware is called “open source,” which means the code is available for anyone to modify.

  1. More cities will become “smart”

Consumers won’t be the only ones using IoT devices. Cities and companies will increasingly adopt smart technologies to save time and money.

That means cities will be able to automate, remotely manage, and collect data through things like visitor kiosks, video camera surveillance systems, bike rental stations, and taxis.

  1. Artificial intelligence will continue to become a bigger thing

Smart home hubs, thermostats, lighting systems, and even coffee makers collect data on your habits and patterns of usage. When you set up voice-controlled devices, you allow them to record what you say to them and store those recordings in the cloud. In most cases, the data is collected to help facilitate what is called machine learning. And that data is often sold to others for profit – at your expense.

Machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence that helps computers “learn” without someone having to program them. The computers are programmed in a way that focuses on data that they receive. This new data can then help the machine “learn” what your preferences are and adjust itself accordingly. For instance, when a video website suggests a movie you might like, it’s likely learned your preferences based on your past choices.

  1. Routers will continue to become more secure and smarter

Because most consumer IoT devices reside in the home and can’t have security software installed on them, they can be vulnerable to attacks. Why? A lot of manufacturers work to get their IoT products to market quickly, so security may be an afterthought. This is where the home router plays a very important role. The router is essentially the entry point of the internet into your home.

While many of your connected devices cannot be protected, the router has the ability to provide protection at the entry point. A conventional router provides some security, such as password protection, firewalls, and the ability to configure them to only allow certain devices on your network.

Router makers will likely continue to seek new ways to boost security.

  1. 5G Networks will continue to fuel IoT growth

Major wireless carriers will continue to roll out 5G networks in 2019. 5G — fifth-generation cellular wireless — promises greater speed and the ability connect more smart devices at the same time.

Faster networks mean the data accumulated by your smart devices will be gathered, analyzed and sold to others to a higher degree. That will fuel innovation at companies that make IoT devices and boost consumer demand for new products.

  1. Cars will get even smarter

The arrival of 5G will shift the auto industry into a higher gear. The development of driverless cars — as well as the connected vehicles already on the road — will benefit from data moving faster.

You might not think of your car as an Internet of Things device. But new cars will increasingly analyze your data and connect with other IoT devices — including other high-tech vehicles on four wheels. Where you are located, when and how you move around will be added to the data collected about you and your family.

  1. 5G’s arrival will also open the door to new privacy and security concerns

In time, more 5G IoT devices will connect directly to the 5G network than via a Wi-Fi router. This trend will make those devices more vulnerable to direct attack, according to a recent Symantec blog post.

For home users, it will become more difficult to monitor all IoT devices, because they will bypass a central router.

On a broader scale, the increased reliance on cloud-based storage will give attackers new targets to attempt to breach.

  1. IoT-based DDoS attacks will take on more dangerous forms

Botnet-powered distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks have used infected IoT devices to bring down websites. IoT devices can be used to direct other attacks, according to Symantec.

For instance, there may be future attempts to weaponize IoT devices. A possible example would be a nation shutting down home thermostats in an enemy state during a harsh winter. Even governmental and corporate listening to our conversations via our smartphones, smart-TVs, and home security systems is now taking place.

  1. Security and privacy concerns will drive legislation and regulatory activity

The increase in IoT devices is just one reason security and privacy concerns are rising.

In mid-2018, the European Union implemented the General Data Protection Regulation. GDPR has led to similar security and privacy initiatives in several nations around the world. In the United States, California recently passed a tougher privacy law.

The internet landscape is burgeoning. It’s not just about computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones anymore. Now a multitude of devices are internet-connected.

Be Safe – Backup Your Data Regularly!

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