Can open source force the big vendors to play nice?
Open source advocates are hoping they can avert a fracturing of the IoT. The Linux Foundation, a nonprofit consortium, created the AllSeen Aliance and released a code stack in late 2013 that can be used by any electronics or appliance maker to connect to another product. The alliance hopes that the sheer weight of adoption of this stack, called AllJoyn, will help to push the IoT toward open standards. AllJoyn is agnostic about wireless protocols, and support for Bluetooth LE, ZigBee and Z-Wave can be added easily by the community.
Will the IoT destroy what little privacy you have left?
Privacy advocates are plenty worried about the IoT's impact on consumers. Part of this is due to the arrival of IPv6 addresses, the next generation Internet protocol. It replaces IPv4, which assigned 32-bit addresses, with a total limit of 4.3 billion; IPv6 is 128-bit, and allows for 340 trillion trillion trillion addresses or 340,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. This makes it possible to assign a unique identifier to anything that's part of the IoT (although not everything needs to be IP addressable, such as light switches). This may enable deep insights into a home. Smart metering systems, for instance, will be able to track individual appliance use.
"Information about a power consumer's schedule can reveal intimate, personal details about their lives, such as their medical needs, interactions with others, and personal habits," warned the Electronic Privacy Information Center, in testimony in late 2013 at a Federal Trade Commission workshop. This is information that may be shared with third parties. At this same FTC workshop, another leading privacy group, the Center for Democracy and Technology, outlined its nightmare scenario.
Light sensors in a home can tell how often certain rooms are occupied, and temperature sensors may be able to tell when one bathes, exercises or leaves the house; microphones can easily pick up the content of conversations. The message is clear: Courts, regulators and lawmakers will be fighting over IoT privacy safeguards for years to come.
Will my smart washer attack me?
Security experts are worried that consumers won't be able to tell the difference between secure and insecure devices on their home network. It will be a threat to enterprise networks as well. These devices, many of which will be cheap and junky and made by who-knows-who overseas, may not have any security of their own.
Security researchers imagine problems, such as the connected toilet, demonstrated at a recent Black Hat conference, which flushed and closed its lid repeatedly. Hackers could create havoc by turning appliances and HVAC systems on and off. Baby monitors have been successfully taken over by outsiders. One advantage that IoT security may have is it's still in its early stages, and the security community has a chance to build IoT systems with a strong measure of protection. Cisco is fishing around for ideas. The company is running a contest (with a June 17 submission deadline) with $300,000 in prize money for ideas for securing the IoT.
When will the Internet of things be ready for prime time?
Vendors will be sorting out the various protocols and technologies for years. Consumers are curious, perhaps, but sensors and hubs for the home aren't flying off the shelves. There are real IoT uses today, especially for home monitoring and security. For now, the big users of sensor networks and remote intelligence gathering are businesses and governments.