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Confronting IoT issues: Practicality and efficacy

Posted: 15 Jul 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Cisco  Internet of Things  connected home  WiFi 

Although Internet of Things (IoT) seems to be a big deal, are everyday use-cases for the connected home the best that the technology can deliver? While there's certainly something positive to be said about IoT, it has yet to prove that it can bring in more value than what it can presently provide.

Aside from big-number projections (i.e. Cisco predicts 50 billion IoT devices by 2020), which would tempt anyone into becoming an IoT cheerleader, I haven't seen a single credible-use scenario that might lure the average consumer onto the IoT bandwagon.

Honestly, it creeps me out to think about my devices at home talking to one another, doing stuff without my involvement, and talking about my habits, good and bad, to total strangers (advertisers, service providers or just more machines), behind my back. There's nothing warm and fuzzy about this. At all.

I'm sure you've all heard about an incident, reported last week, in which smart LED lightbulbs leaked WiFi passwords.

This is a classic case that hearkens back to Asimov and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Once empowered by its network connection, the "smart device," in this case, a lowly light bulb, outsmarts its human "host" and starts doing things nobody ever asked it to do.

Security experts, called Context Security, have released details on how easy it is to hack network-enabled LED light bulbs, and showed how they could eventually turn the lights off and on remotely.

The way an LIFX light bulb, used by Context Security for this demo, is set up sounds all too familiar. The master bulb receives commands from a smartphone application and broadcasts to all the other bulbs over a wireless mesh network.

WiFi and 802.15.4 6LoWPAN Mesh Network

WiFi and 802.15.4 6LoWPAN Mesh Network (Source: Context Security)

The hacker was able to obtain the WiFi username and password of the household the lights were connected to, by posing as a new bulb joining the network.

LIFX said it had updated its software since being notified of the vulnerability. But it's not far-fetched to imagine that my networked smart appliances at home could suddenly get turned on and off, remotely, by a total stranger, without my knowledge.

With this in mind, I've started asking industry sources for credible scenarios under which IoT devices improve my life by talking to each other. Readers are welcome to chime in below. Give me your best shot. Convince me why my washing machine needs to strike up a conversation with my gas grill.

Bill Morelli, associate director at IHS Technology, shared with me some use cases that have been presented to him by vendors. These include room lights automatically get adjusted, sensing that I am watching a movie on a large-screen TV in a living room; somebody rings a door bell when my baby is asleep, and the bell, however, is set up so to flash the room lights instead of ringing), leaving the baby undisturbed; if I accidentally leave my car's headlights on when I come home late at night, a sensor in the garage automatically messages my smartphone, which, in turn, sends me an alert SMS; and similarly, if I left the iron on when I left home, I get an alert on my smartphone.

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