11/01/2021 |

All About the Internet of Things (IoT)

Learn what the Internet of Things is, how it works
and what IT security has to do with it.

smart home smartphone next to lamp

The following is a summary of what is meant by the Internet of Things (IoT), how it works, where and how it is applied. IoT is topic is more relevant than ever. As a practical example, you can even learn how to make coffee via the OTRS service management solution – clever!

What is IoT? A Simple Explanation.

The term IoT is the shortened form of “Internet of Things.” It refers to network-enabled devices and smart objects that are given their own identities and are connected via the Internet so that they can communicate with each other, accept an order or communicate with their owner; for example, when the butter in the smart refrigerator is empty, a grocery list might be updated. In short, this is the networking of objects or machines. The range of possible networked devices extends from simple household appliances to industrial tools.

With the help of the Internet of Things, applications can be automated and tasks can be performed or completed without external intervention. Internet-connected devices are called smart objects. More than 7 billion IoT devices are already networked today, and experts expect this figure to rise to 22 billion devices by 2025.

Historical Origins

The term Internet of Things was coined by British technology pioneer Kevin Ashton in 1999. Ashton gave a talk at Procter & Gamble that year. He spoke about the introduction of the RFID chip in the company’s value chain.

His focus was on the interdependence between computers into which data would be fed regularly in order for them to work optimally. Since employees had limited time to do this work, it was to be automated. This created the need for devices to be able to exchange data and communicate with each other without human intervention.

The true beginnings of the Internet of Things as a completely new technology, started back in the 1960s.

While Ashton coined the term, the true beginnings of the Internet of Things as a completely new technology, started back in the 1960s. Read more about the historical developments here.

How Does the Internet of Things Work?

The technical foundations for the IoT are the Internet and microprocessor technology. A microprocessor is installed in a device and networked via the Internet by means of an additional wired or wireless interface. Wireless technologies include WLAN, Bluetooth, UMTS and LTE.

For example, in a business environment, RFID technology could be used to identify goods and merchandise so as to improve logistical processes. Transponders would be attached to the goods: The transponders would contain information or data about the respective goods. This transponder would then be recognized and read wirelessly by a reader. The reader, which would be networked with the Internet, would then send the recorded data to other computers and networked devices for further information processing.

Each of the devices in the Internet of Things is uniquely identifiable via its own Internet address and can therefore be contacted by humans via the Internet. Nevertheless, the influence of humans remains limited because these devices equipped with sensors are networked with each other via the Internet; therefore, they can exchange data, act independently, adapt to situations, collect new data and react to scenarios accordingly without human help.

What are IoT Products?

When we talk about IoT products, or so-called smart objects, in the context of the Internet of Things, we usually mean physical objects, such as household appliances, vehicles, wearables, and industrial tools. These can range from a washing machine that switches on when electricity is cheapest, to wearables and tools that prevent assembly errors and increase workplace safety, to a car that finds the next free parking space.

Where is IoT Being Used?

Industries or companies benefit from IoT when the application of sensor devices in their business processes bring advantages. The following are some examples of this:

  • Transportation and logistics: Ships, trucks or trains transporting goods across the country can be rerouted based on changing weather conditions, vehicle state or driver availability by using IoT sensor data. The goods themselves can also be equipped with these sensors to support shipment tracking or temperature control and monitoring.
  • Retail: Using IoT sensors, retailers can more easily manage inventory, improve customer satisfaction, reduce operating costs, and optimize supply chains. For example, inventory could be controlled by equipping shelves with weight sensors, collecting RFID-based information and relaying it when necessary.
  • Manufacturing and production: In manufacturing, sensors can monitor production equipment to proactively maintain machines or detect if production performance is compromised.
  • Automotive: In addition to the capabilities in manufacturing, sensory devices in vehicles can detect potential equipment failures and alert the driver.

A Slightly Different IoT Example

One company that uses OTRS to handle customer requests for both internal and external service management in their IT department and has strict OLAs in place. OLAs have been set with a only a few minutes allowed for response time. (An OLA or Operational Level Agreement is more or less an SLA, also known as a Service Level Agreement, between two departments.)

Each ticket that comes has such an OLA. The response time specified by the company is 20 minutes. One service employee is assigned to each ticket as the responsible person. But since the employee has only 20 minutes to answer and gather the relevant information, there is no time to make coffee.

When a ticket with such an OLA comes in, OTRS automatically sends a web service request to the coffee machine with the request to make a double latte macchiato, which he just has to pick up!

So an employee came up with a very clever idea: When a ticket with such an OLA comes in, OTRS automatically sends a web service request to the coffee machine with the request to make a double latte macchiato, which he just has to pick up! The coffee machine itself has network access and is able to accept web service requests. Small anecdote: Within the team, a discussion arose as to whether different coffee strengths should be set depending on the OLA.

What Does The “S” in IoT Stand For?

But the Internet of Things does not only bring extraordinary technology uses, because with the increasing networking of many devices, the probability of a hacker attack also increases automatically. Thus, IT security managers also have a lot more work to do given the Internet of Things. An IoT security strategy should be an indispensable part of the IT strategy. Should a security incident occur with an IoT device, it will likely be assigned to the Product Security Incident Response Team, or PSIRT.

Once a vulnerability is disclosed, it can be fixed and customers with affected products can be notified. With each disclosed vulnerability, a device becomes increasingly secure. Both internally and externally, such as by customers, such vulnerabilities can be disclosed.

Every IoT product offers an attack surface through their network interface — not always to hack the device itself. Sometimes such smart objects are also used as “jump points.”

Think back to the coffee example that was triggered by an OLA: Potentially, a hacker could install network traffic monitoring and analysis software on this coffee machine through its network interface (such as tcpdum). This could intercept and read internal and external emails. In the event of such an incident, one must react quickly and contact the PSIRT.

With STORM powered by OTRS, the notification of an incident is immediately routed to a limited group of designated employees within an organization, generally the PSIRT. STORM has been developed for the secure handling of security incidents in the cyber security environment and the resulting security-related tasks. Neither other employees within the company nor external persons have access to this data, unless access is granted. The PSIRT can process the security incident using the information contained in the ticket. How best to proceed in the event of an incident should be clearly stated by a company as part of its security policy. Incident reporting and tracking software that meets security standards can always be helpful in this regard. With STORM, you also have experienced security experts on your side who will work with you to set up your personal incident management process.

The Internet of Things is creating an exciting utopia of how life can be simpler and more connected in the future. But with increasing connectivity, security must also be ensured against hacker attacks or similar. How is your company using the IoT to improve workflows? What steps have you taken to ensure security?

Photos: cloudlynx on Pixabay

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