IoT has become a bit of a buzzword but what does it actually mean? Is it safe? Are AI devices about to rise up and seize control from humans? Read on for answers to the five questions you are probably asking about IoT.

What is IOT?

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to devices that are connected to the Internet to allow them to collect and share data. The idea of IoT has been around for decades and has the potential to simultaneously complicate and simplify our lives. The idea of IoT is to make smart devices that will collect and share data to meet a specific need or for a specific purpose. For instance, smart fridges that could monitor the things in your fridge and notify you when you run out of items of food. It is possible that smart fridges could go even further, potentially ordering new food for you or making recipe suggestions based on the items you have in your fridge. This has the potential to make our lives easier – imagine never having to do the food shopping again! But also opens up a range of security concerns around the amount of personal data collected and the information tech companies could hold on individuals and their habits.

What sort of products would count as IoT?

It is easy to assume that IoT is something only accessible to the mega rich or gadget addicts but in fact there are lots of IoT devices that are already common place. Many people already have smart meters installed in their homes, monitoring their energy use and lots of you will be familiar with the idea of a virtual assistance such as the Amazon Alexa or Google Home.Even things like Apple Watches, Fitbits and wireless enabled baby monitors fall into this category. Put simply, any device that connects to the internet and collects data could be categorised as an IoT device.

Can IoT devices be hacked?

In short, yes. Any device that connects to the internet can be hacked, however, so far cases of IoT devices being hacked are pretty low. The main problem is that because the idea of networking appliances and other objects is relatively new, security has not always been considered in product design. IoT products are often sold with old and unpatched embedded operating systems and software. Furthermore, purchasers often fail to change the default passwords on smart devices — or if they do change them, fail to select sufficiently strong passwords. To improve security, an IoT device that needs to be directly accessible over the Internet, should be segmented into its own network and have network access restricted. The network segment should then be monitored to identify potential anomalous traffic, and action should be taken if there is a problem.

Is it safe?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) robots turning against humans is a popular theme in film and television so it’s no wonder that many people have concerns about how safe IoT actually is. Firstly, AI and IoT are not the same thing, an IoT device would not necessarily have AI but there are lots of cross overs. Secondly, we already know that it is hackable, so the question of safety is down to how well the companies that collect the data from IoT devices look after our information. The new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) means that companies need to be more transparent about how they will store and use our data but in terms of regulations for IoT there is still a lot of work to be done. A single set of standardised regulations across the IoT ecosystem would make it much safer, easier to monitor and protect our information.

How important is IoT?

With the rate that technology is advancing it is highly likely that IoT is already beginning to impact all of our lives in one way or another. Some of these advancements might be for convenience (smart fridges), some might be helpful (thanks Alexa!) but for healthcare IoT has the potential to be lifesaving. Smart devices are allowing us to understand more about specific illnesses and ailments as well as health in general, making the advance of IoT extremely important to the industry. IoT has the potential to impact nearly everything we touch, scaling up from individual use to smart homes and on to smart cities.

Whether you are an early adopter or a technophobe it is hard to ignore the potential impact that IoT will have on all our lives. Whilst there is clearly some work to be done to ensure we are protected against potential future threats it is likely that most people will feel that the potential benefits IoT brings will outweigh the potential dangers. Technology we currently use already poses these same risks, yet there are few people who would give up the convenience of their smart phone because of the potential threat of a data breach.

If you are concerned that these advancements could lead to an AI uprising, don’t panic! So far, the number of accidents that have resulted in AI harming a human are a result of the technology being too stupid rather than too clever. Improving their knowledge is actually making them less likely to hurt us, at least in the short term. Probably worth being polite to Alexa and Siri though, just in case.