What is IoT and how can it make your life better? What are the risks?

One of the latest buzzphrases is “the Internet of Things,” or IoT. It refers to thousands of devices and apps that connect to the Internet to make things happen. Some examples of IoT include:
IoT devices

  • The FitBit activity tracker, which allows you to track your exercise online
  • Amazon’s Alexa, which can manage your schedule and your home’s lighting, temperature, and entertainment
  • The Nest smart home thermostat, which learns your heating and cooling preferences
  • The Ring video doorbell, which allows you to monitor visitors to your home when you’re away
  • Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant, which allow users to give verbal commands to their devices to research information, schedule appointments, play music, and more
  • The American Kennel Club even has an IoT collar for dogs, the Link, that tracks pets’ locations, their exercise levels, and more

Eventually, IoT will include self-driving cars, smart toothbrushes that tell you the best way to brush your teeth, personal sensors that monitor air quality for pollen and pollution, and roadway sensors that indicate when a bridge needs repairs.

But how can IoT devices save each of us time and money?

Google AssistantThink about what you could use some help with in your everyday life. IFTTT, an acronym for If This Then That, develops free applets that connect your devices to make them more productive. I recently connected an IFTTT applet to the Google Assistant on my Android tablet to help me find my phone when it’s lost in the house. I tell my tablet, “OK Google, find my phone,” and it rings my phone.

That’s not exactly a life-changing applet, but there are many more to come as the technology matures. Here are a few other IFTTT applets that can save you time and money:

Other IoT devices can protect your assets:

  • For businesses with company vehicles, track them at all times with IoT sensors in the vehicles. If a business transports perishable items, there are cargo sensors that can track temperature, light exposure, and damage and make the data available real-time through a smartphone app
  • If you have an office or storefront, you can make it more secure and give yourself peace of mind with smart locks. For a couple hundred dollars, you can buy a door lock that integrates with your other devices so you can easily unlock the door remotely and with voice commands, give authorized people (like the cleaning crew) access to your business, and monitor traffic through the door. You can also log into the lock’s app to ensure the door is locked while you’re gone. But before you invest in a smart lock, see the section below on security.

Are there risks to using IoT devices?

The biggest risk right now is security. ZDNet predicts that within five years there will be 50 billion IoT devices made by thousands of companies with different objectives and security protocols. A massive amount of data is constantly being collected by these devices, and many of them were pushed to market before security was seriously considered. Surprisingly, medical devices have been some of the most vulnerable: Heart monitors and pacemakers have been hacked or are easily hackable because the manufacturers didn’t think about putting safeguards in place.

Hacked vehicle

A Jeep Grand Cherokee hacked by researchers in 2015

In 2015 a team of researchers wanted to see if it’s possible to hack into a passenger vehicle remotely – which they found out wasn’t that hard to do. The researchers were able to manipulate the radio, track the vehicle using GPS, and even control its braking, speed, and steering. When the researchers shared this information publicly, Chrysler immediately recalled 1.4 million hackable vehicles.

 

How can we protect ourselves from hacking through our IoT devices? First, always change the default password on devices. Second, install security updates immediately.

Change the factory settings on your device as soon as you start using it. These devices are given a basic factory username and password that most people don’t change, but that leaves the device open to hackers. Use a different strong password for every IoT device and change your home and office wifi passwords to something secure. When firmware security patches are released by the manufacturers, update your devices immediately.

Before you invest in a smart lock, do your homework and find out if the manufacturer rolls out security updates on a regular basis. If you can’t find the answer to that question, don’t buy the product. For a deeper look into the hacking possibilities of IoT devices, check out this article on HackerNoon.

Have questions about IoT? Text or call me at (916) 947-4026.

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