What is the Internet of Things (IoT)

Mar 25, 2021 | IoT Changes, Security

Businesses vacillating as to whether they should adopt IoT are already several steps behind the first-movers. Just last year, we saw 65% of enterprises implementing IoT systems to varying degrees, taking us collectively towards ubiquitous adoption.

Able to digest huge data inflow, IoT systems lend to organisations strategic and tactical insights from connected devices. Businesses get a real-time feed on key performance indicators, and device or system-wide anomalies. These newfound capabilities result in smarter decisions and more timely actions for leaders.

IoT progress is now happening at an incredible pace, and it’s important for everyone within technology to have some level of appreciation for what it can offer, and also the potential pitfalls. To help you get up to speed, this article will walk you through the fundamentals of IoT; where it is being implemented, its promises, and in what way one of its biggest obstacles towards deployment – security – can be addressed.

What’s Inside:

  • What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?
  • IoT: Then and Now
  • What Do IoT Device Deployments/Applications Mean for Businesses?
  • Where Are Businesses Deploying IoT Devices/Technologies?
  • IoT’s Top Challenge: Cybersecurity

An Overview of IoT

What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of smart physical objects connected to each other (and other systems) through networks, most notably, the internet. As such, they are able to share data with each other.

A typical IoT-rich network architecture consists of four component stages:

  • Sensors – the ‘Things’; units embedded with sensors to capture data
  • Internet gateways – aggregates, measure, control data
  • Edge IT – runs preprocessing and perfunctory analytics
  • Data centre – runs deeper analysis; manages and archives data on platter and/or in the cloud

IoT helps organisations analyse a massive amount of data with an open, cloud, and distributed setup. And helps visualise insights on custom dashboards.

On top of that, end-to-end proactive security runs the gamut of the entire IoT ecosystem protecting itself against cyberattacks. This usually resides in an open architecture or at least is heavily partner-driven. For example, IoT security systems, like CyAmast’s, detect, alert, and address potential security risks and issues.

IoT trends point to the advent of highly compatible, scalable, lightweight, fault-tolerant security features to match the expected growth in IoT adoption over the next five years.

IoT: Then and Now

The Internet of Things has come a long way from the first connected Coca-Cola vending machines at the Carnegie Melon University in the eighties. The nineties saw the development of the TCP/IP protocol and, markedly, the term ‘Internet of Things’ coined by Kevin Ashton, But it’s only recently that IoT as an infrastructure took off, abetted by recent developments in the level of sophistication available to smart devices with sensors, and enhanced significantly by cloud computing and developments in AI like Machine Learning (ML) and Natural Language Processing (NLP). This maturation has resulted in the convergence of information and operational technologies, giving credence to calls that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is now at hand.

Today, we see IoT in consumer deployments in the likes of smartwatches, smart speakers, and video doorbells, and the like with which most are familiar. Of greater significance though, are the deployments away from the public eye. The Internet of Things opens myriad business opportunities at a level never before imagined. IoT is deployed across a wide swath of industries such as logistics, manufacturing, transportation, energy, healthcare, education, and mining. IoT opens the doors to deeper insights, more granular visibility, faster turnaround time, and substantial cost-reductions. Often, the IoT benefits are felt strongest around production, customer relationships, market analyses, system security, compliance, and maintenance.

As we see IoT grow in sophistication, we are able to ‘trust’ it more in more sensitive areas of our lives. So while we’re already actively enhancing our own lives with smarter alarm clocks, doorbells, and toasters, and we’re seeing businesses benefit inside manufacturing, logistics, security, and so on, there are areas where IoT has been slower to permeate by design, Critical Infrastructure. These are the public facilities and utilities underpinning our energy, water, transport, agriculture, and so on, and have seen IoT adoption understandably more cautious. While many of these systems have had ‘smart’ function for literally decades in the form of Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA), that time has seen these implementations refined, and the scale, cost, and reliability are not easily unseated by newer, less field-tested IoT genera.

It is inevitable that we will see the rise of truly smart cities; those that can generate, consolidate, and apply the massive amounts of data IoT generates, and improve the efficiency and sustainability of the disparate components that make up our society.

IoT in Practice

Generating and Managing Big Data

IoT devices individually generate a relatively low volume of data. Collectively though, due to the device counts in most deployments, this is a very different matter. To benefit from the opportunities IoT presents, that data must be captured, analysed, and actioned. If we look at the layers in an analogue to the OSI Model, we can break down IoT into the following layers which map against the Proposed Standardised Architectural Model:

  1. The ‘Things’ Layer
  2. Connectivity/Edge Computing Layer
  3. Global Infrastructure Layer
  4. Data Ingestion Layer
  5. Data Analysis Layer
  6. The Application Layer
  7. People and Process Layer

Layers One and Two are inherently on the network. Layer Three, the Global Infrastructure Layer, refers to where and the initial bits & bytes travel, and largely dictates how and where the proceeding Layers are also handled. It fundamentally boils down to On-Premises versus Cloud – both options with CyAmast.

Data residing in a wide range of independent IoT units can easily be aggregated into big data in an IoT network. The choice of where this happens is a pertinent business decision between On Premises versus Cloud, and will hinge on the individual circumstances of each organisation.

On Premises provides closer to real-time capabilities for analysis, and intrinsically controls over security speed, as the data need not leave your network. With Cloud, as big data is stored elsewhere, it frees businesses from CAPEX and maintenance headaches, and provides both horizontal and vertical scaling for operations.

In both deployments, businesses have an unprecedented ability to gain insights from the information common to big data analytics. In time-critical or highly-sensitive environments, On Premises may be a better solution, and with Cloud, organisations can now store, manage, and manipulate big data elastically, scaling up or down as needs dictate.

Layers Five and Six are where intelligence and analytics platforms slice-and-dice big data from disparate units in an IoT device network, find relationships between data sets, and present the data and insights. The power of this aggregation cannot be overstated. Understanding how devices – and by extension, people – are interacting with their devices in the real world (even if unconsciously) provides a basis for human or even AI-driven decision-making. Imagine seeing crop planting and maintenance insights from agricultural equipment to better understand maximising yields and efficiencies. Imagine understanding how vehicle traffic is flowing to the millisecond and the interplay between lanes, roads, and lights, and substantially reducing commute times and thus environment impact, and help emergency vehicles get to the scene with unprecedented rapidity. Or the implications for healthcare regarding diagnosis and treatments.. And… this list goes on. For individual organisations, the effects may be less pronounced, though still see powerful advances in efficiencies and safety.

Maintenance & Upkeep of Physical Devices

IoT platforms interact with the physical world. They can monitor early signs of battery capacity loss or if a device is failing given that 82% of device failures occur at random.

More sophisticated IoT solutions, like CyAmast, use Machine Learning to create predictive models that surface buried correlations among data sets to detect deviations in patterns. For example, a device may be only intermittently faltering rather than going offline. We can automatically identify breakdowns, glitches, and other functional issues before they happen. Predictive maintenance keeps equipment in peak operational shape and helps prevent catastrophic failures. In effect, IoT solutions like ours address the limitations of overtly manual, time-based preventive care.

Tracking of IoT Assets and Devices

IoT asset management means you keep track of IoT assets wherever they are, whether in transit or distributed. Sensors embedded in an asset broadcast the location details via networks, with data transmitted in real-time or periodically by technologies, such as ethernet, mobile, and/or Wi-Fi. These sensor costs are now dipping to a point their addition to any device is trivial. As such, more businesses are expected to adopt IoT asset architecture in the coming years.

Where Are Businesses Deploying IoT Devices/Technologies?

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is being adopted in myriad ways that span business processes and operations across industries. While IoT is sure to benefit all verticals, specific sectors have since forged ahead with their adoption of IoT systems.

Manufacturing

One of the early adopters, the manufacturing sector, is giving rise to smart factories. They feature interconnected machinery, equipment, and processes that make automation and self-optimisation possible. IIoT is being implemented in, among other areas, planning, product development, production, and value chain industries.

Evidently, IIoT manufacturing rollouts are mostly localised within the factory’s ecosystem. What we’re seeing are independent IIoT-enabled factories that may integrate with each other in the near future as a key driver of smart cities.

Where IoT is utilised in manufacturing:

  1. Production and assembly line – Sensors built into motors, robotics, and machinery churn out real-time data. These help managers optimise production at multiple levels. One vital IIoT application is in preventive maintenance. Managers are made aware of potential issues before they escalate. For instance, a subtle deviation in a spur gear’s rhythmic motion triggers an alert of potential wear-and-tear weeks before the gear breaks down.
  2. Factory transport – Smart factories are rolling out Self-Driving Vehicles (SDVs) for material handling within the premises. These SDVs are more than just for transport; they feed data into inventory systems, providing managers greater control against stockouts or surplus. SDVs also leverage self-learning technology, rendering them with total autonomy when navigating the floor.
  3. Shop floor-to-top-floor communication – Real-time data coming out of IIoT machines helps planning, development, production, and logistics coordinate their actions closely. The result is a dynamic production environment able to adjust to different situations at every production stage.
  4. Customisation at scale – Smart machines make it a reality to customise products in huge volumes. We’ll see smaller personalised production runs along the line of a mobile app receiving customer specs. Then it will feed the data into an enterprise system to manufacture a custom-fit product. For instance, a bespoke set of golf clubs.

Data Centre Monitoring/Management

Nowadays, data centres are in a race to ramp up data storage, security, and connection to meet the astronomical numbers of IoT devices being churned out. IoT devices are estimated to reach 50 billion by 2030. The centres themselves are leveraging IoT technology to make their facilities run smoothly at optimal levels. IoT is also key to running operations with greater efficiency and greener sustainability.

Where IoT is utilised in data centres:

  1. Data management and monitoring – A typical IoT system pulls data from disparate system touchpoints and runs it through intelligence analytics. Then, it displays insights on personalised data dashboards. Data centres managers usually get a single pane view of their operations, giving them visibility over multiple server locations. They can monitor major components like servers and storage networks. Also, they can drill down into the smallest detail in the architecture with pinpoint accuracy on where efficiency can be improved further.
  2. System maintenance – IoT solutions help data centres conduct preventive care to avoid equipment breakdowns. With persistent real-time monitoring, IoT systems help managers spot paths to malfunctions. This allows them to conduct equipment replacement or system overhaul before the problem happens. The result is round-the-clock operational stability.
  3. Automation – With big data surpassing humans’ ability to process a gazillion-load of data influx, an automated triage proves critical to any data centres. For instance, IoT systems automate the process of prioritising issues, helping point managers to high-priority issues fast. Likewise, provisioning can run in auto-mode, which frees up the I.T. team of cumbersome workload.
  4. Power management – An IoT power management system leads to greener operation with less wastage and with power usage at efficient levels. This is achieved by integrating IoT sensors with analytics software, which keeps equipment running at peak levels.

Supply Chain/Inventory Management

IIoT has revolutionised Supply Chain Management (SCM) in various ways. It affords logistics managers significant control over supply-and-demand planning, quality assurance, and issue management.

In SCM, IoT is finding its way into SCM systems, Material Requirements Planning (MRP) systems, order management systems, inventory systems, and warehouse management systems.

Where IoT is utilised in the supply chain:

  1. Movement of goods – Leveraging GPS satellites, IoT devices can track where goods are being stored. It can also follow them once in transit up to the last-mile delivery. All the while, real-time data on the goods’ condition are being fed into the SCM system. With granular visibility, logistics managers can resolve bottlenecks quickly and streamline the movement of goods.
  2. Storage facilities – Movement is likewise tracked within warehouse premises as goods go from inventory through order fulfilment. We’re seeing IoT-enabled inventory systems being rolled out with more frequency recently. Communicating with IoT-tagged devices, these systems tap into the facility’s datasets. It leverages information primed for analytics, accountability, and contextual intelligence to maximise warehouse cost-efficiency. Critically, IoT helps keep storage conditions at healthy levels for perishable, hazardous, and volatile stocks. Conditions such as humidity, light, and other environmental factors are monitored in real-time.
  3. Administrative tasks – Tagged devices help validate transactions throughout the supply chain. These include documenting the delivery of goods, supplier payables, bill of lading, handling fees, and onward shipping requirements, among others.

Personnel Management

IoT in personnel management is typically implemented to manage access control and authorised actions using mobile devices at the user end. Typically, a smartphone, the mobile device is identified with a unique IP address. This connects to the IoT system which allows access to restricted areas. Or, it can trigger specific actions, for instance, powering up a piece of equipment.

Some of the common applications of IoT in personnel management include smart IDs, smart card readers, smart locking systems, and other associated units.

Where IoT is utilised in personnel management:

  1. Authentication – Managing, updating, and disabling access credentials are simplified with greater accuracy and flexibility. Authentication focuses on user identity and device identity. Furthermore, IoT authorisation also reduces the risk of identity theft due to a lost physical ID.
  2. Authorisation – Similarly, IoT permits specific actions restricted to authorised parties upon validating user credentials. Permission happens at group and topic levels.
  3. Wayfinding – Using their IoT-connected smartphone, guests and employees can access indoor wayfinding. These devices guide them through complex environments such as plant facilities, campuses, and sprawling headquarters.
  4. User interactions – Employees in different locations but connected to an IoT system can coordinate their activities in real-time, for example, sharing location details.

Fleet and Asset Management

IoT-ready vehicle fleets are connected to a platform called cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X). The platform allows for low-latency vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-roadside, and vehicle-to-pedestrian communication.

In fleet management, IoT is seen in telematics built into trucks. Working with GPS and wireless technologies, telematics sensors channel real-time data through cellular networks, for instance, and into an enterprise system.

The same infrastructure is typically adopted in asset management, less the transport components where they are irrelevant.

Where IoT is utilised in fleet and asset management:

  1. Preventive maintenance – IoT provides you with an early warning alert to avert major maintenance issues or even life-threatening accidents. Sensors can detect deviations in coolant temperature, low battery, engine vibration, the weight distribution of freight, oil oxidation, and other metrics. This allows the system to predict issues even before the problem manifests itself to the naked eye.
  2. Engine diagnostics – An in-vehicle data acquisition system collects engine parameters to help managers run diagnostics on individual engine parts. Likewise, IoT makes remote fault code reading possible.
  3. Fuel efficiency – IoT sensors collect data on fuel wastage caused by idling, improper acceleration and deceleration, inefficient routes, time delays, fuel contamination, breaking habits, and speed patterns. The system then analyses this information and creates insights on ideal driving performance. Guided by data, the person behind the wheel achieves fuel efficiency.
  4. Environmental and safety compliance – With the fleet performance at optimal and efficient levels, transport companies are able to meet environmental and safety regulations such as carbon emissions, speed limits, periodic inspections, proper attire, wearing of seat belts, and other OSHA directives.

IoT Top Challenge: Cybersecurity

Building a complex network of devices, sensors, and systems is just the start of an IoT rollout. You also need to secure it at the system and device levels. And, every internal and external touchpoint should be protected from attacks as well.

Traditional Security Protocols Not Enough

Traditional cybersecurity for network and cloud won’t cut it as they only offer nominal attention to the endpoint and over-the-air (OTA) loopholes in IoT systems. On top of that, the complexities of wireless protocols and lack of standards among device manufacturers leave a window for hackers to tap into device radio gaps and take over an IoT unit. In light of IDC findings that 70% of data hacks enter through endpoints, this makes security one of the top IoT challenges.

Even if you have a successful IoT pilot, that doesn’t mean scaling the architecture won’t lead to IoT privacy concerns and security issues. Vulnerable touch points must be identified and hardened. And, devices should be regularly tested and monitored for anomalies, threats, and risks. However, many companies lack the necessary IoT security skills and resources to guarantee a successful implementation.

Specialist vendors are stepping in to address the shortfalls in internal capabilities of organisations by providing commercial and industrial IoT security services. For instance, organisations can take advantage of CyAmast’s solutions for IoT security monitoring, compliance, and even forensics. Historically, the default approach to network security has been the ‘trust-and-verify’ model. Due to the very nature of IoT, untrusted devices are frequently deployed, meaning the onus for additional security measures is placed on existing infrastructure to protect against possible threat actors. CyAmast provides multiple layers of defence without inherently trusting the device; from a detailed ‘fingerprint’ of the current device behaviour, to the analysis and dynamic policy mechanisms for handling network flows.

Getting Up to Speed with IoT Security Technologies

Cutting-edge technologies, though, come with complications. The fastest way to start leveraging the outcomes IoT can bring though, is by not reinventing the wheel, but rather through adopting the path of least resistance. This means utilising proven devices technologies with successful live deployments, and using proven safeguards for such ecosystems. For one, CyAmast’s solution is built on years of research and development in IoT cybersecurity and software-defined networking. The same technologies are within your reach without needing to start from scratch. You get to put advanced insights and forensic capabilities at your fingertips. This leads to IoT systems that are easy to deploy, automate security intelligence, and handle frequent changes with greater flexibility.

Businesses will do well in obtaining the competitive advantages afforded by IoT as soon as possible. After all, vacillating is never an option.

If you’d like to see how CyAmast can help you improve your operational efficiencies and boost your security posture, reach out today.