From My Vantage Point

The IOT Cybersecurity Act: What it Could Mean Going Forward

Leading up to the Presidential inauguration of Joe Biden, his Peloton had become a matter of national security. Equipped with a camera and a microphone, the President’s stationary bike has been considered a prime target for hackers, which led to a debate as to whether he should even bring it into the White House.

Now, multiply that matter by millions, and you have some idea of the challenge facing the federal government as it pertains to interconnected devices. That was the impetus behind the Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2020 (a.k.a. the IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2020), which was signed into law on December 4, 2020.

The aim of the bipartisan bill, which was introduced in 2017 by Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), is to establish baseline security requirements for IoT manufacturers hoping to contract with the federal government. And, according to the website Cyberscoop.com, it is viewed as “arguably the most significant U.S. IoT-specific cybersecurity law to date, as well as the most significant law promoting coordinated vulnerability disclosure in the private sector to date” by Harley Geiger, director of public policy for the cybersecurity company Rapid7.

This bill empowers the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to batten the cyber-hatches. Specifically, those bodies must develop baseline cybersecurity guidelines for all federal agencies.

The hope is that it will in turn lead to an upgrade in the standards of those manufacturers who contract with the government. The additional hope is that those standards become commonplace, whether a company is working with the government or not.

“Of course it depends on the business and how much business they think they can get from the federal government,” Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), who sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives, told Cyberscoop. “I think it will sway some. I’m not gonna say it will sway all.”

If nothing else, it represents a baby step, a noble attempt at securing the ever-expanding cyber-border. By some estimates, there will be between 500 billion and one trillion connected devices around the world by 2030. And as Chris Hazleton, Director of Security Solutions at the mobile-security-solutions firm Lookout, told Security Magazine:

IoT devices are growing in diversity in terms of capabilities and price points, so there is pressure on manufacturers to rush devices to market, which means they often cut corners to maintain margins. Cybersecurity is often seen as a last-minute and costly add-on that manufacturers skimp on. Hundreds of millions of devices and network hardware have been delivered to market with simple default admin passwords. This creates a massive attack surface for any organization that deploys and relies on these connected devices. 

Limiting that attack surface promises to be more and more difficult in the years ahead. But this bill begins to address that. It raises awareness, and will hopefully lead to an across-the-board improvement in security standards — standards that will forever need to be tweaked and upgraded. We can be sure that the hackers will never rest. Those on the other side of the equation can’t afford to either.

Tech in 2021: Get Ready for the Internet of Behavior

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the business landscape, and as we head into 2021 its impact will continue to be felt.

While remote work has become a necessity at many businesses (something that promises to be the case, well into the new year), there are those enterprises where that is not possible — where employees must congregate in the workplace, while at the same time observing social distancing protocols and other measures that will ensure their safety.

To be absolutely certain that is the case, employers are turning to an offshoot of the Internet of Things — the Internet of Behavior (IoB). Sometimes called the Internet of Behaviors, plural, it involves tracking human activity through interconnected devices. Gartner predicted in its “Top Strategic Technology Trends for 2021”  that it is poised for a breakout in 2021.

As examples, Gartner pointed to the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, which enable employers to monitor whether employees are washing their hands enough, and computer vision to reveal whether they’re using masks. In addition, telematics could be used to track driver performance when using company vehicles.

Other organizations are equally bullish about the IoB’s potential. Forrester, in its forecast for the year ahead, sees environmental monitoring taking on greater importance than ever — that sensors will be used to not only maximize uses of lighting, power and energy, but also to identify congested office spaces so that modifications to the layout can be made to enable social distancing.

The IoB uptick was neatly summarized by Gartner research vice president Brian Burke during an organizational symposium, stating, “The unprecedented socioeconomic challenges of 2020 demand the organizational elasticity to transform and compose the future.”

Indeed, the pandemic has brought about a need for such elasticity — for adroitness, resourcefulness and the ability to adapt on the fly. As it was put in the Forrester report:

Behind the scenes, processes designed over years to ossify cost control, efficiency and predictability were replaced by those that emphasized flexibility and resilience. As they plan for 2021, manufacturers will learn the lessons of 2020, doubling down on technology-enabled strategies to deliver flexibility, resilience and innovation.

Mining behavioral data is a concept first explored by Gote Nyman, a retired psychology professor at the University of Helsinki, in 2012. He cautioned, however, that too much can be read into statistics compiled gleaned from the IoB. It has been left to Gartner researchers to dig deeper; and as the technology has improved, the insights have become more revealing.

Certainly the IoB also serves as a powerful marketing tool, giving businesses unprecedented insights into customer habits, which in turn can be used to anticipate future behavior.

There are, however, privacy concerns, concerns that conjure up memories of George Orwell’s ever-vigilant Big Brother, from the dystopian 1949 novel “1984.” Gartner estimates that by 2023, 40 percent of the global population — some three billion people — will be tracked. By 2025, half of the world will be subject to one IoB program or another.

So that’s concerning, and bears are watching. But in the short term, the IoB offers promise for companies and investors alike.

What’s Next for Ethereum?

The general-purpose blockchain Ethereum turned five on July 30. And while it is certainly doing far more than merely toddling about, there is every expectation that it will find its footing in a number of different sectors in the years ahead.

Alternately billed as “the world computer” and “the foundational platform for everything” when it was launched in 2015, Ethereum has been deemed capable of impacting such sectors as supply chains, ecommerce, communications, healthcare, real estate, social media and even elections.

But to date it has made its biggest impact on decentralized finance (DeFi), a financial system that operates without the need of a central authority, like a bank or governmental body. In other words, decentralized apps — i.e., Dapps — can be created on Ethereum (not to mention other blockchains), with the most common of those apps making it possible for users to lend or borrow cryptocurrencies such as Ether, Ethereum’s crypto.

DeFi, a $1 billion business in January 2020, had quadrupled in value by July. It offers financial access to the world’s 1.7 billion unbanked people, and is expected to disrupt traditional banking institutions. Alex Batlin, CEO of the crypto wallet Trustology, told Decrypt.com that he could, in fact, foresee DeFi becoming the world’s most trusted global liquidity pool within the next five years. And, he added:

“As DeFi goes global and becomes reliable, more liquidity will flow there, and attract more liquidity. All of this will be enabled by decentralization, because it is safer.”

Kosala Hemachandra, founder/CEO of MEW (MyEtherWallet), agreed, informing that same outlet that “DeFi will transition from being a trendy and high-risk way to maximize gains in crypto, to a daily necessity and reality for personal finance — less risky, more usable, more reliable, and more ubiquitous.”

The rollout of Ethereum 2.0, which began in November and will be done in stages, will hasten Ethereum’s rise in other realms. This new iteration is hailed for its change from Proof of Work (i.e., a system demanding a certain amount of work to ward off hackers and such) to Proof of Stake (a system where transactions can be performed according to the amount of cryptocurrency a user holds), and draws Ethereum closer to the point where it might become, as co-founder Vitalik Buterin once wrote, “a crypto network that intends to be as generalized as possible.”

That means more decentralization in more areas. Consider that in December 2018, the U.S. government passed legislation that would make online services more easily accessible. Consider the way smart contracts, an Ethereum staple, simplify supply chain management; the World Economic Forum estimates that it could result in $1 trillion in new trade over the next 10 years. Consider the platform’s potential impact on healthcare, as blockchains have been shown to minimize instances of patient misidentification and information blocking.

Other potential use cases are real estate, as smart contracts can make transactions easier to consummate. Distributed ledger technology (DLT) has also shown potential in elections, as exemplified in West Virginia’s 2016 primary.

In short, there is still vast potential for Ethereum. Having clambered to its feet at age 5, it is now getting steadier and stronger. No telling how far it might run in the years ahead.

The 5G-IoT Marriage, and What it Will Mean for Industry

The rollout of 5G is ongoing, with all the major wireless carriers endeavoring to expand their coverage across the U.S. And as vast as the implications promise to be for everyday people — a result of 5G’s crackling download speeds and minimal latency — they are that much greater for industry.

It is expected, in fact, that 5G (i.e., the fifth generation of wireless technology) will, in combination with the Internet of Things (IoT), usher in the Fourth Industrial Revolution — a.k.a., Industry 4.0. That manufacturing will be more efficient and supply chains more fluid. That retail shopping will be more personalized and smart cities more likely. That autonomous vehicles will become more commonplace and remote healthcare more widespread.

In short, the world could very well become more efficient as a result of this 5G/IoT marriage. Just consider the particulars — how 5G is 100 times faster than 4G, and offers latency that is 25 times lower. It is capable of supporting a massive number of devices at once, and is vastly more energy-efficient than its predecessor as well.

In truth, there are few industries that won’t be touched by 5G/IoT, as evidenced by the fact that the global Industrial IoT market, valued at $688 billion in 2019, is expected to explode by 2024, to $982 billion. (Other estimates have it exceeding the $1 trillion mark.) It will specifically impact such areas of industry as asset tracking, predictive maintenance, product quality and supply-chain management.

The impact of these technologies can be illustrated in the production of bladed disks (a.k.a., BLISKS), a crucial part of turbines most commonly found in jet engines. Precision is a must in the manufacturing of these items, as flaws can lead to engine failure and severe accidents. The use of sensors, which provide real-time information during the production process, ensure quality — and, in turn, profitability. In addition, increased efficiency reduces fuel consumption and the production of greenhouse gases. So there is a sustainability component as well.

How did we get here? Rewind to the 1980s, when first-generation wireless technology allowed for voice communication. 2G, which enabled texting, came along in the ‘90s, with 3G (featuring mobile broadband) available in 2000 and 4G (with ever-increasing speed) in 2010.

In the meantime, the IoT was gaining momentum. The term, coined by British innovator Kevin Ashton in 1999, showed some initial footing in industry about a decade later, but then became more commonplace in home and office settings, with the introduction of such things as smart thermostats, doorbells, lighting, etc. There are, in fact, more connected devices in the world today than there are people, and it is expected that there will be even more in the years ahead — as many as 41.6 billion of them by 2025, according to one estimate.

By the end of this year, there will be some 5.8 billion interconnected devices in industry (particularly the automotive industry) alone. More to come, to be sure. And in the meantime AT&T has taken root in dozens of U.S. cities, with Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint making inroads as well. As mentioned, that will enable these devices to be faster, more efficient and more interconnected than ever before. 

By |October 30th, 2020|Tags: , , , , , |

A Growing Concern: Using the IoT to Study Climate Change’s Impact on Trees

While the implications of the Internet of Things (IoT) have been felt in the home through the use of things like smart appliances, doorbells and virtual assistants, its potential is limitless. In fact, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that it might save the planet.

There are countless examples. Consider, for instance, that Vodafone, a United Kingdom-based telecommunications company, is using IoT technologies to study how forests respond to climate change. Sensors designed to withstand cold winters and harsh climates will be attached to trees, where they will send a constant stream of data to scientists for further research. The scientists will explore how trees’ ability to store carbon may be used to mitigate climate change around the world, and the results could inform government decisions, policymakers and the public about how tree growth affects the overall environment.  This is just one of the many ways in which the IoT could help to combat climate change and improve the planet’s health and sustainability. 

One of the greatest advantages of the IoT is energy efficiency. Some predictions indicate that carbon emissions could fall by one-fifth over the next decade due to the growing digital transformation enabled by the IoT. Smart buildings making use of IoT devices and remote management consume approximately 22 percent less energy than traditional structures.

The impact of the IoT at home may be obvious, helping humans to consume less energy overall, reducing their reliance on fossil fuels and limiting carbon emissions.  But,  it also has extensive potential for industry. The industrial IoT can measure industrial processes, monitor potential pollutants and air quality and track climate change processes. IoT technologies can also be used to reduce waste byproducts of industrial production, track the flow of materials and reduce reliance on fossil fuels and other natural resources.

IoT-powered LED lights not only help cut carbon emissions by 1.4 million tons each year but also help to reroute traffic and increase parking efficiency, reducing emissions and congestion. Part of the “smart grid,” IoT energy meters can help to conserve energy while meeting customer demand when it is most necessary.

IoT has huge potential for the energy sector and big infrastructure, as well. One fully automated electricity plant in Massachusetts has cut energy demand on site by 75 percent after it replaced an old-fashioned steam plant. Because it is able to monitor energy needs on a continual basis, the plant’s use and generation of electricity is far more efficient.

Scientific researchers have other uses for IoT technologies, too. Data science and the computation of massive amounts of data brought together by IoT devices can be used to shape policies, make recommendations and educate the public about climate change and effective ways to combat its threat. IoT systems are even being used to track the health of bees and detect and prevent illegal logging. Wildlife preserves and nature organizations use IoT surveillance systems to spot unlawful poaching and hunting or detect threats to the ecosystem in the area.

By monitoring the world around us while developing advanced solutions to reduce consumption both at home and in large-scale industry, it is clear that the IoT is more than a security camera in a doorbell or an app to turn on the lights at home. Instead, the IoT presents great potential as a powerful tool in the global battle to stop climate change.

The Rise of Decentralized Finance

Too much, too soon? That is the question hovering over decentralized finance, which in 2020 is having a moment … and then some.

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. in January, it was a $1 billion business. By July, some $4 billion was tied up in DeFi, and the only thing matching its momentum was the hyperbole surrounding it.

“How Decentralized Finance Can Change the World Economy,” read an Aug. 10 Tech Times headline.

“How DeFi Will Reshape Financial Services,” read an Entrepreneur headline from six days earlier.

“The Great Potential Of Decentralized Finance in 2020,” read another Entrepreneur headline, on July 21.

While there was some wariness of this being a bubble, others believe that decentralized finance is merely scratching the surface of its potential, that it will indeed disrupt the financial industry badly in need of it.

In other words, the best is yet to come.

So what is decentralized finance? As its name suggests, it is a monetary system that operates without the need of a central authority, like a bank or governmental body. Rather, it is built on public blockchains, particularly Ethereum. Put another way, people can create decentralized apps — i.e., Dapps — on these blockchains, the most common of which allow users to lend or borrow cryptocurrencies.

Ethereum, released in 2015, offers the second-most valuable cryptocurrency, behind Bitcoin, and is the first blockchain to feature both smart-contract technology and its own programming language. Vitalik Buterin, the driving force behind Ethereum, went so far as to call it “the foundational platform for everything” upon its release, touting its potential impact on sectors ranging from supply chains to elections, and from ecommerce to real estate. Others seem to agree about its potential, having labeled Ethereum “the world computer,” while noting in particular what it might mean for DeFi.

Tech CEO Rod Beckstrom offers the best explanation of the latter concept. Author of the 2008 book The Starfish and the Spider, he uses those two creatures to analogize organizations. While some, he said in 2009, have a centralized management structure reminiscent of the spider’s central nervous system, others are like the starfish, which does not. If you were to cut off one of its five arms, it would grow back. If you were to cut off all of them, five new starfish would be formed. It is, he believes, “perfectly decentralized.”

And so it is with DeFi, which as mentioned earlier is expected to change the face of finance. The industry is, Framework Ventures founder Michael Anderson said at the Global DeFi Summit on Aug. 6, “the largest single market in the world,” and in his estimation has not undergone significant innovation in four decades. DeFi, with its promises of agility, interoperability and transparency, can be expected to change that. In fact, Anderson added, forward thinkers in the field will in time come to be viewed as “the new Goldman Sachs.”

That is far from a novel viewpoint. Observers believe DeFi has the potential to reach the world’s vast unbanked population, estimated to be somewhere between 1.7 billion people (according to Tech Times) and 40 percent of the global population (according to Securities.io). Other experts see traditional financial professionals migrating to DeFi, and legacy fintech being rendered obsolete.

Kain Warwick, founder of the DeFi derivatives platform Synthetix, told Cointelegraph.com that DeFi is still in its “very early phases,” but is optimistic about where it is headed. The same holds true for Yuan Gao, Neo Global Development’s head of marketing, who told Neo News Today that a “major transition” is underway.

And right now, there are no signs of stopping.