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The Internet Of Things Is Coming And I Am Worried!

20/01/2015 8:02 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST
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The Internet of Things is coming! Everyone is excited but I am not! I am actually worried! Very worried! Why would I worry about the seemingly brilliant breakthrough that is going to make all our lives easier by simplifying every aspect of our life? Let me explain this in detail. But before that, just recall the damage that a hack did to Sony Pictures and the larger perception of security! Also remember that we as a species are staying more indoors and talking to each other without bothering much to meet each other. Now on to the topic of discussion here.

I had a dream yesterday, my fridge told my car that I had run out of milk and my car sent a message to my local shop about the same. My car even went the whole hog and gave them my credit card number so that they can charge me and have the milk ready when I pass by. The milk carton itself had a RFID tag that was bound to the RFID in my car, so when I approach the shop in my car that drives itself, the car goes to the shop and picks up the milk. From here, the car contacts my fridge and notifies that milk has been picked up. The fridge now updates the home inventory and ticks off milk. The kitchen is notified and the microwave waits in anticipation to boil the milk for me. I get home and put the milk on the kitchen platform, it is then poured into a bowl by the computer and pushed into the microwave. When the boiling is done, there is a beep and the milk gets poured into a glass for me.

I start drinking it. I accidentally spill some and scald my forehand. Now the health monitor pill that I swallowed senses this and sends a message to my doctor about what happened, with a report of damage done. The doctor responds with medication, the pills message my pharmacy and buys the stuff for me, it is delivered by a drone to my place. I take the pill and get all better!

You may ask me, "What is wrong with that scene?" Well, for one thing, note that I am not involved in any of the messaging/purchasing decisions above. The next most important thing here is the fact that my credit card details and even private information like the state of my health and what ailments I have are being transmitted and received by entities without my involvement. Also frightening is the fact that my self-driving car decides its own route based on a few messages.

You may think that I am paranoid or over-exaggerating. Believe me, I am not. While a sane implementation of the IoT will handle all these situations by involving me at all points that need decisions and giving me a master override over the machines, the possibility of a security breach cannot be ruled out. And the hacker, in this case, will have all the information that is required to be me or to erase me even, if required! For example, in the scene above, if my doctor gets a message that leads him to prescribe medication that might actually make me sick! Or my car is hacked when ordering grocery and someone uses it to buy weapons online! Worst-case scenario is a disruptive element taking control of my data and assuming my identity to wreak havoc. That person is untouched and I become public enemy number one! What then?

You may say that I am being dramatic and paranoid. I will temporarily accept that. Now the other aspect of why I am worried, we are already an 'Angry Birds' generation as against a tennis or football generation, and our kids are getting worse at going out. There are also indications that their physical endurance is less than ours at their age. When they get the IoT into their lives, the problem will get further compounded and they will find less reasons to get up and go out! I am not sure that this is the way that we want things to go. These are not simple concerns, we are already fighting obesity as a disease and struggling with it.

Finally, look at the underlying technology that will drive the IoT revolution. The main one is the Cloud. The magical, mythical and oft misunderstood Cloud. People tend to believe that just being on the Cloud is a sign of security. Executives at Sony Pictures will tell you otherwise. The next important technology enabler for the IoT is Big Data, personal Big Data in this case. Again a technology that is just getting out of the woods and not as stable and secure as we would like it to be. Finally, the devices are made by companies that are competing with each other to eke out their piece of market share. I would say that each one of these elements needs to look at scalable, tamper-proof and sometimes intelligent layers of security and communication protocols, before this whole IoT bandwagon is anywhere near my home. And that my friends, is why I am worried about IoT coming home!

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