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Internet of things (IoT)

Last Edit: 03/11/17

The Internet of things (IoT) is a term that is used to describe the inter-networking of electronic items to the: internet, private computer networks and cellular networks. The term was coined by Kevin Ashton, a British technology pioneer, who envisaged the physical world being connected to the Internet through the use of sensors. Items that are capable of being connected to the Internet are referred to as 'smart devices'. Some examples of electronic items that are being inter-networked are: vehicles (cars, trucks, vans, motocycles, bicycles), houses, smart sensors in industry, televisions, lamp posts, power plants, sub stations, lightbulbs, biochips, health pills, toasters, fridges, and kettles. Broadly speaking, the Internet of things (IoT) is being applied to items in the following areas: agriculture, manufacturing, environment, transportation, energy, healthcare, and the home. More recently, the term 'smart city' has been used to describe cities who are at the forefront of connecting their assets (street lights etc) to the Internet to improve efficiency and cut costs.

The question that usually arises, in relation to the Internet of things (IoT), is why do these 'everyday items' need to be connected to the Internet? The answer given by the manufacturers of these items is usually convenience and efficiency. For example, if a person has decided to remain an extra day visiting family and friends, they could use a smart device to switch off their home's heating to save energy costs, or 'fire it up' 20 minutes before they are due to arrive home, so they do not enter a freezing cold home in the winter months. Looking further in the future, it has been claimed, that when these devices can be connected to artificial intelligence (AI) or learning machines, then the convenience and efficiency that they provide will be more seamless and automated. The drawback is the potential invasion of privacy: who is collecting and storing the data produced by these devices, how will this data be used, can these items be used to spy upon their owners. In May 2017, leak documents released by Wikileaks suggested that British spy agencies, working with the CIA, could turn on smart televisions and smart phones and convert them into bugging devices that were capable of recording conversations and taking photographs. Looking further in the future, if smart devices are connected and controlled by artificial intelligence (AI), what control will humans have upon their smart devices.

The security of smart devices has also been questioned recently, Denis Makrushin, a researcher employed at the security company Kaspersky Lab has stated: "Cyber attacks that can be conducted by seemingly harmless devices are no longer just the stuff of movies, or even of the future, they are a very real and current threat." Denis Makrushin stated that Kasperksy Labs has conducted tests into the security of smart appliances, one being a coffee machine, discussing the results of the test, Denis said: "Mr Makrushin told MailOnline: "The coffee maker we tested during another Kaspersky Lab experiment was sending enough unencrypted information for an attacker to discover the password for the coffee maker owner's entire Wifi network." The BBC has also interviewed Aaron Laveritt, a risk strategist who is currently located at Cambridge University, and has warned of similar vulnerabilities in household smart items - warning about the risk of these items leaking information, and these devices can be recruited by hackers into botnets which can perform denial of service attacks.

And in October 2019, the BBC published an interview (bbc link) with Vint Cerf, often referred to as the cofounder of the Internet, who spoke about the future of the Internet. Vint had this to say about the Internet of Things: "one thing that's for sure is that more and more of it will become accessible, the second thing that we know which is happening is the arrival of an avalanche of programmable devices that have network capability, that can be part of the internet. If we want to go a little further out into the future, one thing that we know that you will see, i am sure you will see, is the expansion of the internet off the planet."