The Excitement and Pitfalls of the Internet of Things

Published: May 17, 2017

Information TechnologyInternet of Things

The Internet of Things can be an exciting topic, however, the GAO warns of its various challenges with remedies to suggest how to improve this technology market.

The explosion of the Internet of Things (IoT) has left a large list of technological possibilities within the world today. The GAO issued a report on IoT on May 15, 2017 providing the thorough background, composition and challenges of the space. The report serves a varying audience- from those unfamiliar with IoT to those looking to expand and improve within its market.

Nowadays, IoT is a term that covers a broad spectrum of devices, essentially any one that is connected to a network and sensing, analyzing and/or transmitting information. This can range from wearables such as fitness trackers, smart watches, and clothing for respiration monitoring to vehicles with location sensors and streamed entertainment to homes and buildings with lighting sensors and distanced utility commands. IoT exists in numerous spaces such as manufacturing, healthcare, agriculture and law enforcement, to name just a few.

Each device is comprised of three components: hardware (sensors, processors or actuators); network (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular); and software (automation, data analytics, operating system). All of these components must be connected for an operational IoT technology.

Within each of these components is room for enhancement. For example, further progress is needed within the hardware particularly in energy sources and storage for IoT devices. Under the software component, there is room for advancements including software developments in big data analysis of IoT data into actionable information, software tailored specifically for IoT and any “smart” programs that replace or aide human operations.

Over time, an IoT’s primary use in manufacturing has turned into a service-based focus. For example, whereas IoT was used to apply to the running of machines, it is now being additionally used as a method to manage and analyze the data produced by the machines and provide information on ways to improve productivity, maintenance and lines of business for an industry.

However, with all of the excitement and possibilities in what IoT devices can do, the report warns of the following negative implications and challenges in the use of IoT and where there is room to improve:

  • Information Security
  • Privacy
  • Safety
  • Governmental Oversight
  • Management
  • Global Initiatives
  • Interoperability
  • Standards
  • Economic

Using information security as an example, the increasing use of multiple IoT devices across multiple sectors connected in multiple ways, is likewise leading to a growth in cyber threats. IoT is vulnerable to attacks for sensitive information, fraud, interference in operations and attacks on other systems and networks. As a remedy, the GAO suggests the following:

  • Follow standards and guidelines developed by NIST, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the Center for Internet Security
  • Design and incorporate security controls for IoT devices at the onset of design
  • Design the IoT device with a software upgrade capability
  • Use a cloud computing platform

The federal government along with state and local entities have adopted IoT devices in fulfilling many of its missions. Pollen, waterway and wildfire sensors as well as drones in disaster management have been used within the environmental sector. Law enforcement has adopted sonic sensors to pinpoint gunshots and transportation utilizes location sensors in buses and trains as well as open parking lot sensors in garages. More specifically, GSA has previously used IoT devices under its Smart Building strategy by installing sensors in its buildings for efficient energy and waste practices. Opportunities for services surrounding the IoT space are also available. The Veterans Affairs department is seeking a contractor to secure IoT medical devices while the Air Force intends to solicit, among other things, the development of IoT device applications.