The Internet of Things and Smart Cities – Security and Privacy Aspects

The Internet of Things and Smart Cities – Security and Privacy Aspects

In a world where the technology is constantly improving itself by the hour, the demand for a seamless integration of human needs and the digital word is on the rise. With every new device that we are procuring for our day to day jobs, the ability to integrate it with the World Wide Web and make it more accessible and user friendly is bound to make our lives easier and improve the efficiency of our homes and workplace.

IoT (Internet of Things), a vision from the 1990s is finally making its foray into our lives in this decade. From shopping malls to our kitchens and home security, we want the Internet to effortlessly help us to stay connected and within accessible range of the various devices we are using to make our lives easier. FMCG items are being tagged with inexpensive microchips to track their stock movement. We are controlling our microwave ovens to heat the food just before we enter our house for the dinner. It’s time to say goodbye to the pesky wires which would often get entangled and make our lives mess-today, we control all the data flow through cloud computing and the Internet. We are able to monitor our houses and ensure the security of our family through home automation and mobile networks, all thanks to the advent of the Internet of Things. Moving forward from machine interaction, the next big aim of the electronics powerhouses is to make efficient Human-machine interfaces that will improve the user interface and user interaction with the machines and computing devices.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the Internet of Things (IoT) as “A proposed development of the Internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data.” IoT connect people and things (machines) Anytime, Anyplace with Anything and Anyone.

A big leap in the IoT vision came with the advent of Data Warehousing and Data Mining. Data generation, Data Analytics and Cloud Data Management has made it possible for many companies to analyze and predict consumer trends, deliverable habits, market influx and user demands. This was one of the earliest implementations of IoT – Proctor and Gamble’s need to monitor the sales of a particular shade of lipstick in the stores and synchronize it with the inventory and manufacturing unit. Today, mobile apps are able to predict the best course of meals, the shortest routes and even suggest monetary spending based on predictions made through data analysis and behavior patterns of the users. Transmission and storage of this data over the cloud has made it possible to eliminate the physical management of bulky storage devices every time the user is in on the move. With the help of IoT devices, we can tap into these invisible data warehouses anytime, anywhere.

However, with every great advancement, comes the need to protect and ensure that the utilities for a safer and efficient world don’t turn into a catalyst for chaos and disorder. With so many people being connected to the IoT devices, it has become increasingly important to ensure that the hackers and other rogue communities are not able to exploit these utilities or harm the end users. With the constant connectivity of the devices to the internet, right from using home automation solutions to the smart automotive factory solutions, the threat of data breaching and compromising of machines has risen. If not through the laptops or mobiles, hackers may end up using components of home appliances, factory machines etc. to hack into our systems and steal vital passwords and confidential information.

It is thus imperative one prevents the IoT from turning from a boon for our society into a bane that affects our safety and privacy. This requires an immense understanding and cohesive action for the InfoSec industry across the globe. Hackers have now been successful in hacking into the power grids in the USA and Europe. In year 2014, there were 79 hacking incidents at energy companies in the USA that were investigated by the Computer Emergency Readiness Team, a division of the Department of Homeland Security. According to an annual report from Cyber security firm FireEye, nearly 50 types of malware that specifically target energy companies in 2013 alone have been identified. These could prove lethal – both technically and financially for the corporations and end users since power grids are responsible for all the distribution of electricity around the world. The spending on information security in power houses, has been by the millions over the years because data and systems safety here is even more vulnerable to physical attacks. The renewable energy powerhouses have been at the topmost receiving end of these cyber-attacks and data security breaches.

As we now strive towards building smart cities, The Indian Government has announced “100 Smart Cities” programme. This is the dream project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and INR 48,000 crore (US$ 7.75 billion) is to be spent over the next five years for constructing these cities in India. Smart Cities envisage an existence of driverless cars, wireless entry-exits, and biomedical monitoring. It is imperative to understand though, that information security and data protection in the scheme of IoT will require, huge investment and planning. IoT is integrating education, transportation, energy, business, homes, earth resources and humans into one big integrated and immaculate network. For such a huge network to function without hassles, it is vital that security and safety is built from the ground-up. The need for implementing global security standard around smart grids and energy systems will  become even more vital in such a scenario.

An important aspect that is becoming a major concern here, is that of human privacy and individual space. As has been rightly remarked by Gary Kovacs, “Privacy is not an option, and it shouldn’t be the price we have to pay for using the internet”. However, with Wi-Fi zones and cameras sprouting at every nook and corner of our cities, a fundamental question we need to ask is how much are our day to day communications and personal lives really. If the already existing, government sponsored snooping and monitoring of our emails and text messages was not enough, we seem to now be moving towards an age where all the devices that we use in our personal lives, will be inextricably connected the Internet. Thus, throwing light on another important question, as to, will we ever unplug from the web and have our own privacy? Information Security is as much about a secure web space as it is about ensuring that our personal lives are free from scrutiny and inspection through our data collected on the internet.

As the world moves towards being united through a global digital atmosphere, we need to highlight vital questions as to how the IoT and the cyber space will integrate into our lives and how much of our day to day activities will be governed by them? This Matrix of web needs to be functionally monitored, governed and administered so that it doesn’t go rogue and end up making our lives more complicated. We need to question ourselves on, what are we bargaining for, in lieu of an easier lifestyle in this growing era of IoT. Although the Internet is arguably one of our greatest inventions it is imperative we remember that with this great power, comes great responsibility, that we must all collectively shoulder.

[ Contributed by- Ashwin Pathak & Yashvendra Pratap Singh ]


1 comment

Good point. Privacy is becoming a big issue as the technology improves. This is an important matter to consider. No matter how careful we are, there’ll always be a loop hole.

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