IoT technology has changed dramatically since the term was first coined by Kevin Ashton 20 years ago.
The technology is constantly evolving to connect numerous, often constrained devices that regularly exchange data.
And IoT is set to become more important as we progress into a post-Covid world. Smart cities will soon become a reality, with IoT being implemented in important infrastructures like traffic lights and energy supply.
However, early predictions that we would have billions of IoT connected devices in 2020 was an ambitious target we have not met. Despite this, there are still millions of IoT connected devices being utilised worldwide.
This revolutionary technology has potential for all areas of society, but as with all modern technology, also comes with potential cybersecurity issues.
DIGIT spoke with Hatem Oueslati, CEO at IoT firm IoTerop, about security concerns surrounding IoT technology, the potential for it to be exploited by cybercriminals and how important IoT will become for society in the future.
The impact and benefits of IoT
As the internet has changed our lives, IoT will do the same in the future, Oueslati said: “This is a revolution that we are seeing.”
Right now, as 5G technology is rolled out around the world, IoT use cases are also on the rise, both in the industrial space and more generally in society.
“[IoT] will change the way our overall industries work because it will impact things like the way that we get electricity, or how gas will reach our houses, or how streetlights are going to be managed and be better for the environment,” Oueslati said.
We will begin to see more projects ‘on the ground’ and within our everyday lives. In March, for example, £400,000 in funding was announced for a project to transform schools, care homes, leisure centres and council offices into smart buildings across the Scottish Highlands.
Scotland’s National IoT network, IoT Scotland, along with smart sensors, will be used to collect data, helping experts to gain insights on council buildings including CO2 levels, temperature and humidity, ventilation, electricity consumption and light levels.
Oueslati describes how the technology is currently being used in Australia to mitigate water usage using current infrastructure to “prevent wasting and ensuring that you can accurately measure the quantity of water consumed in each house, and each country and each city, as well as helping to save money”. He believes IoT is critical to carry out tasks like this.
Challenges and risks of IoT tech
Despite the associated benefits of IoT connectivity, there is still a lot of hesitancy and criticism of the increased use of automation, smart devices, and AI.
Just last week, the National Cyber Security Centre issued guidance highlighting the cybersecurity concerns of ‘connected places’ such as smart cities and connected rural environments, and how they can be protected against major cyber-attacks.
Oueslati said integrated comprehensive security services into your IoT infrastructure is essential to “making sure that security is sustainable”.
He said: “You need an end to end security approach. We talk about critical use cases impacting citizens; managing your water; managing your gas; managing your electricity consumption, and we can’t afford to let vulnerabilities jeopardise these things.”
A recent study from Palo Alto Networks estimated that 98% of IoT device traffic is currently not encrypted, something which could become a major driver in cybersecurity issues in the future.
Oueslati commented: “If we continue this way, it means that our streetlights or smart meters can be compromised by attackers and it would be a nightmare if we fail to do something about it. We need to put in place more sustainable solutions that effectively enforce security end to end.”
He continued: “Anyone can be a man in the middle – intercepting and compromising the devices – so the authenticity and the privacy of that information is critical. It has to change, and it has to change completely.”
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To mitigate not only the security risks but the proprietary nature of current IoT devices, Ouelsati said that we need to adopt ‘standards’ – systems by which IoT infrastructure can securely share data.
Using mobile phone networks as an example, Oueslati revealed that, just as we have come up with standards for phone networks, IoT needs standards.
“Thanks to mobile telephone standards, all of your [mobile] devices are compatible with each other and they can securely operate on networks all over the world,” Oueslati said.
“It was not a given 20 years ago, but this could ensure the growth of IoT, and with the adoption of standards we are seeing the right tools being put in place to enable an IoT revolution.”
According to a report on the benefits of IoT by McKinsey, by 2025 IoT could have a massively positive impact on the world’s economy, something which is pertinent after the difficulties caused by the pandemic.
Oueslati believes that IoT being used for things like boosting the efficiency of street lighting, and everyday events like parking, will be significant as we move forward out of the pandemic.
“Street Lighting is pretty critical because it has a direct impact, not only on the economic scale of smart cities but also on energy consumption and the planet overall,” Oueslati said. “It is a huge thing that we will see moving forward.”
Boosting IoT security in the future
One potential way to help to protect IoT networks on a scale such as a smart city, would be to use a standardised encryption technology called OSCORE.
According to Ericsson, the 22 billion IoT devices which are forecast to be in operation by 2024 require a critical end-to-end security framework.
OSCORE tech is an IoT security protocol designed specifically for “constrained nodes” and working to help boost end-to-end encryption for IoT devices.
When data is encrypted, as it travels to the ‘first level’ of the network, it is still unencrypted. So, as it travels through a hub, it is vulnerable to cyber attackers.
One of the key issues with encryption, in general, is that it goes from ‘stop to stop’ rather than ‘end to end’. This is one of the problems that technology like OSCORE can overcome.
“OSCORE can reduce the traffic overhead at 50%, which is huge. Imagine this saving multiplied by millions of devices; it is important,” said Oueslati.
He said that OSCORE designed specifically for IoT is a “very compelling alternative” to current encryption approaches.
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IoT is a serious piece of technology for the future, but it does come with obstacles. Implementing technology on this scale will be difficult.
Oueslati maintains that adopting standards will likely be one of the most important things to ensuring a smooth adoption of IoT tech.
“You need to find a good level of fixed standards and you need to find the right implementation that works for your device constraints and product needs.”
As well as this, operational cost is a considerable barrier to widespread adoption. As IoT deployments get modified over time, prioritising cost will help the tech to run more sustainability in the long run, which saves time and money.
Oueslati said. “If you make the right choices, it will have a significant impact on the overall cost of your solutions. Adopting the right implementation, partner expertise and software will have a drastic impact overall.”