There are a lot of up-and-coming themes that are confronting IT managers, strategic business thinkers, and CIOs this year. There are issues ranging from cloud computing, to network security, to software-defined networking, to big-data. It’s daunting list to follow.
However, since we’re thinking about all these issues, why not contemplate the Internet of Things as well?
The Internet of Things is actually a concept that’s been around since the late 1990s, but Howard M. Cohen recently blogged about how this idea is starting to take shape in 2013, with more devices appearing ripe for this type of experimentation. (See: Is 2013 the Year of True Convergent Computing?.) After all, if you think about the sheer number of smartphones and tablets that have come out in recent years, it’s not hard to image other devices -- glasses, watches, even cars -- get Internet connections through ubiquitous WiFi and better broadband.
The question that is being raised, and it’s a good one, is whether or not it’s too early to start thinking about security. In its annual security report, Cisco Systems seems to think that worrying about security with the Internet of Things is a good idea. (I encourage you to leaf through all 40-plus pages at another time.)
What I found interesting about this particular report is the emphasis on the security of the Internet of Things and how prominent Cisco placed it in the report -- right by BYOD, another hot security issues.
The Cisco report finds that there about 50 billion connected devices in the world today. In 2012, the number of these devices grew by about nine billion. That number is only expected to increase as devices such as home heating systems and parts of the average car -- windshield front windows, stereos, engines, etc. -- get wired into the Internet.
How big is big? The answer is pretty big:
It is projected that with an Internet that already has an estimated 50 billion “things” connected to it, the number of connections will increase to 13,311,666,640,184,600 by the year 2020. Adding just one more Internet-connected “thing” (50 billion + 1) will increase the number of connections by another 50 billion.
I’m a bit skeptical about how fast these numbers can grow without some major infrastructure overhaul. This means moving away from IPv4 to IPv6, an idea that is progressing but still has a long way to go. Plus, what companies, besides Google, Facebook, and a few others, really have the engineering know-how to switch to an all IPv6 infrastructure just yet?
There’s also the issue of having the type of WiFi you really need to make this all work. BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins used the "Internet of Things" to describe how he envisions the devices using the new BlackBerry 10 operating system -- always on, always connected, always updating, and able to control, but also separate, the various parts of our lives.
The security issue, according to Cisco, is that all this data that's free-flowing between devices and other Internet-connected objects, as well as people, is a tempting target for cybercriminals or cyberspying. One only has to look at the issues The New York Times had to see the potential for mischief and criminal behavior.
What can a company, an IT shop, or even an individual do? This is how Cisco sees some emerging best-practices, as well as issues of concern:
- Exponentially more machine-to-machine (M2M) connections are coming online each day, leading to a proliferation of endpoints that extend far beyond mobile devices, laptops, and desktops to an "any-to-any" scenario in which any device can connect to any cloud to any application across any network.
- These new connections generate data in motion that needs to be protected in real time as it is evaluated for useful insights through the network and before it's compromised and causes irreparable damages.
- For network security professionals, the focus becomes content-neutral plumbing -- shifting from the endpoint and the periphery to the network.
However, don’t let the conversation end just there. Tell us what you think about the Internet of Things, and whether we are really going to see this shift or not. Is it too soon to worry about security just yet, or is now the time? Please keep the conversation going.