The Internet of Things Promises Tremendous Benefits—But at What Cost?

Many folks are already enthralled by the promise of the Internet of Things (IoT)—that is, the ecosystem of devices and gadgets that benefit from connectivity. Among many other advantages of the IoT, proponents of the technology expect their lives to become increasingly easier as more tasks are automated and artificial intelligence helps us lower our bills and get where we’re going faster and safer.

According to the IDC, the IoT market is thriving, and it’s poised to reach $7.1 trillion by 2020. To put that number in perspective, the IoT market brought in slightly less than $2 trillion in 2013.

The Benefits of the IoT

In theory, the IoT can be leveraged to help us:

- Minimize utility costs. With a smart home, homeowners are able to set their heating and cooling systems remotely. Have you ever forgotten to turn down the heat when you head off to work? A smart home enables you to check the status of your heating system from your mobile device, for example. You can turn it down if you forgot. You can also turn it up when you leave work to head home, ensuring you arrive at a warm house.

 – Stay safer. Did you lock your doors? A smart home also enables you to check the status of your doors, and whether they’re locked or not, remotely.

 – Stay healthier. Wearable tech devices like FitBit encourage users to get healthier by turning exercise into a game of sorts. These gadgets track how fast you run, how far you travel, which routes you’ve taken, how many calories you’ve burned, and more.

 – Drive better. Cars of the future will all be outfitted with connectivity features. According to Gartner, there will be more than 250 million connected cars by 2020. These cars will be able to detect real-time traffic information, communicate with other cars, and sense road hazards via sonar and radar technology. Say goodbye to ever having to fidget with the GPS on your phone again.

 – Run fewer errands. Rather than having to buy recurring household products, like washing machine detergent, for example, the IoT can automate some of these chores. Imagine, for example, that you’ve programmed the brand and size of detergent into your washing machine. A connected washing machine one day might be able to detect how much detergent you’ve used, automatically putting out an order to Amazon when you’re running low. A few days later, a new bottle arrives, and you haven’t even lifted a finger.

While these kinds of benefits are certainly something to look forward to, it’s important to keep in mind that the IoT comes with significant security concerns, too.

The IoT: Rife with Security Concerns

Imagine what would happen if a hacker gained access to your smart home, for example, while you are away in warmer climes during the winter. If that person wanted to break into your house, he or she could figure out when you are away based on anomalies in your utility usage. Or, if the hacker just wanted to be a jerk, who’s to stop him or her from turning up your heater periodically?

Now, let’s go back to the jogger who loves her FitBit. While the data it generates might seem innocuous at first, if it fell into the hands of a hacker, that person could probably have an easy time figuring out the jogger’s habits, including when s/he is most likely to be out running. That data could then be used to break into that person’s place of residence.

Finally, we can’t forget about the connected car. If the car you’re driving is connected to the Internet, then, just like anything else that’s connected, there’s a chance that someone could hack into it. Some have suggested that journalist Michael Hastings, who died in a bizarre one-car accident in 2013, was the victim of a cyberattack.

While technology promises us an easier tomorrow, it’s important to remember that connectivity can be dangerous. Just take a look at Target, Home Depot, JPMorgan Chase, and Sony, all of which recently fell victim to hacking attacks.

By being mindful of the dangers of technology, we are able to enjoy its benefits without exposing ourselves to more risk than we wish to bear.

Image Credit: Flickr (via Creative Commons License)

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