Internet of Things

  • Fabian Sinner
  • January 19, 2024

Table of content

    Internet of Things

    The Internet of Things (IoT) is a term used to describe the networking of Internet-enabled, intelligent devices. These devices communicate with each other to automate processes and measure, collect, and analyze data. Although useful for increasing productivity, the interfaces within the machine communication harbor risks for data protection and IT security.

    The exact definition of the Internet of Things

    A strict definition is not possible, as the term covers a wide range of uses. In most cases, however, IoT describes a network for machine communication.

    The term should be distinguished from the conventional Internet (social Internet), in which people primarily communicate with other people or machines (e.g. servers or bots). The Internet of Things in its current form has only become possible thanks to technological progress over the last two decades and is still developing rapidly.

    Internet of Things in the private sector

    IoT devices, which are accessible to everyone, are primarily intended to make everyday life easier. To this end, Internet-enabled devices or applications are linked together and made controllable. These can be all the components of a smart home, for example.

    IoT enables users to receive a notification when certain events occur, e.g., if the room temperature falls below a certain value or if the electric toothbrush is used with too much pressure.

    Intelligent sensors in IoT devices can also ensure that a roller shutter automatically darkens the window, for example, without the need for human intervention.

    The terms smart city and smart environment are also used in connection with IoT. They encompass the creation and use of an IoT to optimize one’s own environment, whether this is a home or an entire city or region.

    Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

    The Industrial Internet of Things can also be distinguished from the private IoT. Here, individual machines or entire systems are networked with each other. The aim is to increase efficiency:

    • Communication/information exchange between machines, vehicles, containers, vending machines (M2M)
    • High degree of automation
    • Optimization of processes
    • Early problem detection (self-diagnostics)
    • Avoidance of breakdowns
    • Resource-saving production

    The basic building block for this new level of technology is radio-frequency identification (RFID for short). It enables a receiver device to identify and localize the sender using contactless transmission.

    IIoT is often equated with the term Industry 4.0, but this is not correct. The latter term refers to a digitalization project that will only be fully implementable in the future. The prerequisites for this fourth industrial revolution include the Internet of Things, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence (AI).

    The use of IIoT is constantly being extended to new sectors of the economy. In addition to the automotive, logistics, transportation and energy industries, hospitals and the public sector are already reaping the benefits of an omni-channel network: the data collected can be used to monitor inventories, control traffic flows and prevent bottlenecks, for example.

    Examples of the Internet of Things

    In the private sector, smart devices are part of the IoT:

    • Smart phones, tablets and phablets
    • Smart watches, smart bands and fitness-trackers
    • Smart cars
    • Smart homes
      • Doorbells, cameras, safes and locks
      • Security systems
      • Refrigerators
      • Thermostats/sensors for regulating temperature, humidity, solar radiation, light
    • Smart Speakers and virtual assistants (e.g., Siri, Alexa and Cortana)

    What technologies is the Internet of Things based on?

    The Internet of Things is based on several interlinked technologies

    1. Connectivity: Various wireless protocols such as Wi-Fi, 3G, Bluetooth, NFC, etc. enable network communication
    2. Cloud-Computing: Basis as a platform for the consolidation of data and services in a central data center
    3. Smart sensor technology: Innovations in the field of sensor technology enable smaller models and more cost-effective production
    4. Artificial intelligence: Speech recognition technology (natural language processing) enables verbal communication with machines
    1. Machine learning: By using algorithms in statistical models, machines are able to recognize regularities based on patterns and thus build up knowledge independently

    IoT: How smart are smart devices really?

    IoT devices are very popular: according to an IDC study, a double-digit growth rate is expected in global spending on the Internet of Things. Consumers are expected to spend over 1 trillion USD per year on smart devices as early as 2022.

    Consumers hope that everyday tasks can be made easier or even completely automated. At the same time, their use is expected to reduce energy waste. But is this really the case?

    Benefits vs. the environment

    Consumers are increasingly asking whether the design, consumption and service life of the devices make sense from a sustainability perspective. As Welt reported, sustainable electronics is “not an easy topic” for the industry. At least that’s how the head of consumer technology at the German IT industry association Bitkom put it.

    Due to the permanent connection to electricity and Wi-Fi, some smart devices consume more energy than they can save through their use. Even if the connected devices can often remain in standby mode, the cloud servers used to operate the home network are constantly consuming power.

    Energy consumption for the manufacture and disposal of smart devices is another aspect that needs to be taken into account in this calculation. How long an IoT device has to be used to compensate for this expense is often disproportionate to its average lifespan. Ultimately, this only saves the consumer money – and by no means always. The overall energy balance is not taken into account in these statistics.

    Economic failure: New purchase instead of repair

    The software of IoT devices often does not allow for comprehensive updates. This means that their technology simply becomes outdated after some time. A new device is needed to take advantage of certain newer functions.

    The built-in hardware can be another argument against the environmental friendliness of smart devices: It is not only the use of materials that is an irritant for many environmentalists, but also their design. One example from everyday life is new types of smoke detectors that cannot have their batteries replaced. In the same way, many smartphones cannot be repaired in the event of a defect. If a malfunction occurs, they are often a case for the garbage can – and the manufacturers are particularly happy about this.

    But the consumer also bears responsibility here: If investing in the repair of an old device is out of the question in the first place, the demand for products with ever shorter life cycles will continue. And this means there is no incentive to manufacture more sustainable devices.

    IT risks associated with the Internet of Things

    Almost everyone is familiar with the headlines about smart devices and surveillance:

    “Is Alexa a spy? What Amazon’s speaker is listening in on” or “Hey Siri, how many people are listening in?” However, the fear that our data is being used for advertising purposes is actually one of the less frightening concerns.

    Surveillance in your own home

    Amazon subsidiary Ring has repeatedly been the subject of much discussion: The smart home manufacturer hit the headlines in 2018 after recordings from cameras were allegedly transmitted unencrypted and could be viewed by employees in real time.

    The next scandal followed around a year later. Due to a security vulnerability, hackers were able to gain access to user accounts, watch camera recordings live and even speak directly to residents via a speaker function.

    In January 2020, the non-profit organization Electronic Frontier Foundation reported that Ring’s app was still transferring its customers’ personal data to third-party providers for analysis and marketing purposes.

    Security breaches are profitable

    As Link11 reported, telecommunications provider Telenet was also the victim of cyberattacks in January 2020. Hackers offered a list of almost half a million access accounts for routers and IoT devices in forums. While the publication of this data list was public, such lists are usually traded in forums and sold at high prices.

    IIoT in a state of transition

    According to a new IoT study by Computerwoche, more and more German companies are using the Internet of Things to their advantage: AI, blockchain and robotics are the most common applications.

    At the same time, hacker attacks on clouds, denial of service attacks, and malware that gains access to the IoT via smart devices are just some of the challenges posed by increasing networking in industry.

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    Link11 in London at the LINX117 event
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