Internet of Threats

With the rising popularity of connected devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, competition is well underway to get ahead in the Internet of Things (IoT). Predictions for growth are upwards of 100 billion IoT devices by 2025, generating a revenue of US$10 trillion or more. Particularly in emerging markets, IoT has the power to solve long-standing issues and create unique business opportunities around traffic mitigation, labor shortages, safety and security, and efficiencies in public utilities — just to name a few. Developing countries will generate approximately 40% of the IoT market, with the Asia-Pacific region set to become the fastest-growing geographic segment.

However, for as much promise as IoT holds for revenue and improving the world around us, it also holds the opposite for potential harm. As a chilling reminder, last month’s WannaCry ransomware attack locked up over 300,000 computer systems in 150 countries. Its global reach and sophistication led observers to label it “the largest ransomware outbreak in history.” Ultimately, the WannaCry attack led to far fewer ransom payments than projected, but it was not an isolated incident. The MongoDB Apocalypse in January hijacked 28,000 unprotected MongoDB servers. These attacks call attention to several issues that will only worsen with the continued rise of IoT. As one article notes, among the countries worst affected by WannaCry were China, India, Taiwan, Vietnam, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan. As IoT expands in these and other emerging markets, businesses and governments will need to protect new infrastructure investments, reduce the risks presented by older systems, and mitigate against the dangers of mixing new technologies with outdated ones.

For now, business and government leaders can expect that siloed IoT applications, such as Google Home, will make their way into wealthier homes where infrastructure and willingness to pay already exist. Yet the real promise behind IoT lies in its ability to interconnect billions of devices and overhaul the nature of large IT systems. Applying IoT to information systems in health, agriculture, and energy management could exponentially increase the scope, quantity, and quality of data collected without increasing costs. Enabling this transformation requires policy makers and technology providers to agree on standardized and secure IoT data. Businesses may benefit from partnering with governments and standards organizations to define data requirements. In addition, businesses need to continue strengthening security for internet-connected systems and building robust backup and restore processes to limit vulnerability. With increased connectivity comes increased risk, and WannaCry is a warning shot that should not be forgotten too quickly.

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