The Internet of Things Isn’t as New as You Would Think

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by Venkat Pothamsetty

Think adjusting your air conditioning or locking your front door from your smartphone is impressive? Think bigger. These once magnificent feats are dwarfed by the capabilities being introduced in the wake of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Industrial Control systems (ICS) and Operational Technologies (OT) have seen their share of buzz words and trends over the years, but the IoT is the latest trend, and discussion of the topic is growing rapidly.

What is the IoT?

The IoT is a computing concept that describes a future where every day physical objects will be connected and identifiable to other devices via the Internet. The term is typically linked to RFIC, QR codes, and other sensor and wireless technologies as methods of communication.

The IoT is significant because an object that can represent itself digitally becomes something greater than the object by itself—it becomes part of an integrated network. The object relates not only to you, but to the surrounding environment including other objects and useful data creating an era of “ambient intelligence.”

Markets

A bit of history: back in 2005, “smart grid” was all the rage. Smart grid security took control system and control system security into the main stream. The IoT has the potential to do bigger and better things than smart grid did. Smart grid got the buzz partly because of scale and partly because it consumerized control systems, however, the IoT will handily beat Smart Grid in both categories.

The IoT is connecting new places–manufacturing floors, energy grids, healthcare facilities, and transportation systems–to the Internet. The possibilities seem limitless. In fact, Cisco estimates IoT market to be $19 trillion dollars. The IoT stole the show at the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) with wearable computing taking the lead in the trend and the number of gadgets that were on display.

Characteristics that make IoT similar to OT

Like in operational technologies, the device itself, once programmed, can make decisions without being supervised. Devices also talk to each other and interact. From a technical standpoint, both IoT and OT are “systems of systems. While OT control systems are closely tied to infrastructure industries, less technical IoT devices such as sensors are now taking over several cities in the European Union. These sensors are automating street lighting, transportation and traffic engineering, building management, emergency management, safety and security management. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two is that IoT devices can be easily used by operators who are less technically savvy.

Security of the IoT and OT: The challenges are the same

Authentication: The IoT is very similar to control systems applications, authentication of devices with corresponding applications is the easier problem to solve. The harder problems to solve are the authentication of external entities - mechanisms to let remote users / remote applications requesting data are the challenging aspects.

Encryption: The challenges that control systems encountered with respect to devices not being able to support sophisticated encryption capabilities would also pester the IoT world. Like control systems, the IoT applications may also struggle with key management across applications.

Segmentation: The IoT will probably encounter more difficulty in the area of segmentation than OT. It is easy to demark OT vs IT and it is not easy to demark the IoT because its boundaries are hazy, just being in the consumer space.

The areas of the IoT and OT have very similar characteristics. Bringing together these technologies can give a big push to security since they face so many of the same challenges. This evolution is and will continue to be a pervasive driver of change by removing physical barriers and escalating connectedness.

September 11, 2014

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