The Internet of Things: What is it? (And Why You Should Care)

The Internet of Things, or IoT as it has been affectionately termed, is a concept dating back to 1989– when the first internet connected toaster was unveiled. As you may have guessed by this origin story, IoT summarizes the idea that basically any device with an on/off switch has the potential to be connected to the internet.

The first "internet toaster"

Simon Hacket, 1989, with the first “internet toaster”.

This means everything from sunglasses to lamps, even your doctor’s stethoscope can all be connected– to your computer and to each other.

It seems like the realm of science fiction. Recall the chilling tones of “Hello, Dave” emanating from Hal, the supercomputer from Stanley Kubrick’s film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Fast forward to 2017. Not only do computers like this exist–they’re standard. Siri says “Hello” to me all the time.

But why on earth would you want all of this connected?

We live in an age where my phone can automatically connect to my watch, my computer and my TV. I can set an alarm on my watch which tells my phone (hooked up to my sound system) to start playing soft jazz at 6AM. What if I could connect this system to my coffee machine? I could program it to start brewing coffee in conjunction with my alarm.

But beyond mere convenience, the opportunities are staggering.

I mentioned your doctor’s stethoscope. Picture this: you are suffering from an extremely rare heart condition for which you must see a highly specialized cardiologist. Being highly specialized, these doctors are far and few between. So how do you get a second opinion? Today, your doctor can record the beating of your heart and send that recording to another cardiologist all the way across the world, in real time. That doctor could also use that recording to teach a whole fleet of aspiring highly specialized cardiologists for years to come.

How about in 2007 when a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis? It was tragic and many people died. What if we rebuilt that bridge with sensors that monitored the strain and cracks on the bridge and communicate that information to a team of engineers?

Development of the Internet of Things can literally save lives. There are a lot of amazing possibilities, many yet to be imagined. But what about the challenges?

A move towards greater centralization always triggers security concerns. In 2016, we wrote about a huge cyberattack that used the IoT to deny service to users all over Eastern Canada, the United States and even parts of Europe. But IoT attacks can come in many forms.

Remember, these devices automatically connect to the Internet to send or receive data. The security of a device can be breached using the default password or in more complex systems, such as a car with WiFi capabilities, a vulnerability in the software.The information being received by the device can then be rerouted. In 2015, Wired published an article detailing how two security researchers were able to take control of a Jeep Cherokee, first by taking control of the entertainment system then the windshield wipers…and then the transmission.   

Charlie Miller (right) a security researcher at Twitter, and Chris Valasek (left), director of Vehicle Security Research at IOActive, have exposed the security vulnerabilities in automobiles by hacking into cars remotely, controlling the cars' various controls from the radio volume to the brakes. Photographed on Wednesday, July 1, 2015 in Ladue, Mo. (Photo © Whitney Curtis for WIRED.com)

Photo © Whitney Curtis for WIRED.com

Given the dangers, security measures are being taken at every level and security of the IoT is now a concern of the highest level. Following the Jeep Cherokee hack, the Federal Bureau of Investigation made a public service announcement and Fiat recalled 1.4 million vehicles. At a corporate level, a conglomeration of businesses have started the Internet of Things Security Foundation (IoTSF), a non-profit organization that will be responsible for vetting internet-connected devices for flaws and vulnerabilities as well as provide security assistance to tech providers and end users.

By raising awareness and leveraging knowledge to increase user’s confidence, IoTSF hopes to engender active participation in security efforts from the global tech community. Spokesperson John Moore stated, “By creating a dedicated focus on security, our intention is simple — drive excellence in IoT security. IoTSF aims to be the home for providers, adopters and beneficiaries of IoT products and services.”
Lastly, security at an individual level continues to be important. This week, our FixMeTip is all about how you can join in on the fight for a more secure online environment. Click here to see what best practices you can employ right at home!

4 comments

    • Bridget Walsh - Reply

      Hi Tomas,

      Thanks for the feedback! We’re glad you’re enjoying our work.

      Best,
      The FixMeStick Team

  1. Jarred - Reply

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    • Bridget Walsh - Reply

      Hi there,

      Thank you so much for the feedback! We research these topics and try to include the links where the specific information comes from. Try clicking on the bits of text that are underlined and you should be able to read more!

      Best,
      The FixMeStick Team

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