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IoT – For good or evil?
12 June 2019

IoT ("Internet of Things") refers to devices which have the capability of connecting to the internet.

Traditionally you would think of your desktop, tablet or smartphone but these days it has expanded into many of our everyday use devices such as TV's, microwaves, fridges, lights, heating systems and door locks.

IDC predicts that in 2019 the global spend on IoT will surpass the $646 billion (£507 billion  ) spent in 2018 and reach $745 billion (£585 billion  ), growing to over $1 trillion in 2022 - so it's clear that it's not a short-term fad.

Businesses have been utilising the power of these devices for years for monitoring and automation. Collecting data from various elements of their business such as production lines, device usage etc they can optimise production runs, predict faults and reduce or eliminate human intervention for repetitive tasks.

IoT comes to your home

We've recently seen a huge rise in the number of home automation and security systems which is based on this technology, allowing you to control your heating system, lights and even close curtains using input gained from sensors dotted around the home or your mobile device.

Systems can be programmed with your daily routines, freeing up precious time for those busy folks allowing them to get on with more important tasks. People with mobility issues benefit by remotely performing tasks that would normally require physical effort.

Where's the downside?

Well, there's always something darker lurking in the background.

For starters, how many people do you know actually read the manual of a device they've bought before they connect it to their home network? For many, once it's connected and working, they leave it without any further thought into what data is collected, where it goes or who has access to the devices.

There are plenty of recent stories about voice assistants (Google Mini, Amazon Echo etc) listening to conversations but very little is mentioned about other devices which connect to a cloud service somewhere along the way. As small and irrelevant as it may seem, small snippets of data gathered through sensors around the house can be used by companies to create a better profile you and your usage of services. Combine that with other information such as shopping habits and browsing history, then your dataset starts to become more valuable. These days people are more aware of advert tracking on web sites so choose to use ad-blockers but are less aware of other data captures.

You gain control of your devices but once connected there is always a risk of someone else controlling them. Just imagine being woken up in the middle of the night only to find your heating has been switched off entirely, your lights flashing, and your smart plug sockets being constantly blipped on and off potentially destroying appliances or causing a fire!

So, what can we do?

For starters, buy devices from reputable brands and RTFM (Read the flipping manual).

Cheaply sourced devices may seem attractive but you don't necessarily know who is behind them or the quality of the components inside.

Manufacturers are getting better in providing information on how to setup devices in a safe and secure way, but that doesn't ensure your whole environment is secure

If in doubt, consult someone who knows rather than putting you, your home or business at risk.