It is probably a term that you have heard thrown around lot, but what does IoT really mean?
If you want the full form, it's Internet of Things, but that does not make it any easier to understand. The Internet of Things is a connected network of devices that can communicate with each other without the need for human intervention. They can send data between each other and even control one another in various ways.
‘Thing’ in this context is a device capable of connecting with other devices over a network to accomplish tasks. Let us say for example, you put an alarm on your phone to wake you up at a certain time in the morning. All you are doing is setting the time, everything is else is figured out by the phone. It cross checks its internal clock and then beeps when it hits the scheduled time.
Now imagine a network of devices connected with your phone and all of them synced with a different action to perform when the alarm goes off. When the scheduled time arrives, your window blinds open on their own, your bedside speaker automatically plays a song to cajole you out of sleep and the lights in your bedroom slowly turn on. All of this happened without any human intervention as the devices were 'connected' to perform a unique action when the alarm went off.
This is a very crude example of IoT, one of the most basic things you can do with the technology. As the number of IoT certified devices grow, so do the implementations. Imagine a fully connected city of the future where traffic lights and cars can talk to each other so that vehicles can stop on their own or medical devices that can monitor patients and send emergency calls out in case of distress.
How does it work and why is it important?
IoT is important to consider for the future as technology strives to make our lives easier. We have already started seeing various implementations of IoT devices around us. Fitness watches are already smart enough to monitor your heart rate and dial your emergency contacts in case they notice some irregular heart rate patterns. They can also send a weekly report to your doctor so that he can check your progress without the need for your input.
Autonomous vehicles, which we have already started seeing on the roads rely on a complex series of sensors that send and receive data over a network to navigate towards a destination. If you break it down to the essential building blocks, the IoT network requires three things – a device that analyses and sends information, a device that gathers and reads that information and one device that executes the commands in accordance with that information.
Think of it as giant web where each thread is a device that is connected to the spiral in the centre through a network. When information is sent, its broken down and ripples through the entire web where each device on the thread reads that information and if it is relevant to its own set of instructions, executes a command.
Another good example of an IoT framework is our Aadhar system. You only need to register and give your fingerprints once and then it is automatically stored in a database that can be accessed by services that require your authentication. This makes signing up for financial services like a bank or buying a new SIM card easy as all you need to share is your Aadhar number for verification.
What are the dangers of IoT?
As much as we hate to admit it, the internet is not what it used to be. We have already reached a point where it has become mandatory to install an antivirus and firewall on your system. The dangers of data theft are very real.
You may have heard about the CDProjekt RED hack recently where a hacker managed to pull all the source code files for games such as The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077 off the office computers. These files were then sold to the highest bidder over the dark web after the company refused to pay a ransom to get them back. Now how did the hackers manage to get their hands on the files while sitting millions of miles away? It only required one chink in the security system.
Once that system was hacked, every system connected to it became accessible and the hackers simply copied the files over the network.
Now that was on a smaller scale and condensed to one office, imagine what would happen if someone managed to access data for autonomous vehicles and the routes they take.
Of course, it goes without saying that the companies are not dumb enough to leave holes in their security, but it can happen and has happened in the past.
If there is technology, there will always be people who will try to bend it to do their bidding. There is genuine concern over what data is shared over the network as well. Amazon was caught with its pants down when it was disclosed that it hired people to listen in on conversations and voice commands given to Alexa, on its smart voice activated home speakers.
The business of data is always murky, floating in that strange line between ‘acceptable’ and ‘ethical’. This is bound to get worse once more IoT devices start to need more data to perform complex tasks.