The next big development of the Internet is happening now: “The Internet of Things” (IoT) is already changing people’s lives, workplaces, and commercial consumption, and new products are constantly being developed and produced.

The terminology, “Internet of Things,” has been around since 1999, when it was first invoked by Proctor & Gamble technologist Kevin Ashton. But only in the last few years has it become more reality than concept. By definition, a “thing” in the Internet of Things can be anything in the world which can be assigned an IP address and given the ability to transfer data. This includes obvious things like a wireless security system in your home or a GPS in your car, but it is expanding into much larger parameters: an individual wearing a fitness monitor, a family pet with a trackable microchip, a refrigerator with temperature sensors, and even small household items with smart technology, such as a Wi-Fi light switch, all which can be activated remotely or automatically. Innovative companies are developing new products for the network every day.

According to Goldman-Sachs, the Internet of Things will potentially connect 28 billion things to the Internet by 2020. During a 2012 TEDx Talk, Dr. John Barrett, the Head of Academic Studies at the Nimbus Centre for Embedded Systems Research at CIT, estimated the average person would be surrounded by to 3000 to 5000 smart things by 2032. The benefits of the Internet of Things are numerous. Barrett described how individuals will have better means to learn, monitor, search for, manage, control, and even play with things by utilizing the Internet of Things in the future. Smart phones will be able to scan virtually anything in the world and access information about it. E-Health devices will be able to monitor personal health, and contact family or healthcare providers if an anomaly is detected. Cities will be able to run more efficiently through better traffic and resource management. People will have access to more connected objects which can improve their home environment and their entertainment options.

Compatibility within the Internet of Things has been a key issue from the start, as multiple companies, all with their own proprietary software, try to create appealing consumer products. You might find the perfect HVAC control from one company, and the best environmental controls from another, but if they can’t talk to each other, what’s the point? While this problem is far from being solved, there are protocols being developed and steps being taken to address it. For now, as a consumer, you should confirm the product choices you make are compatible before installing them.

There are certain drawbacks to the Internet of Things. As with any advancement in the cyber world, privacy and security are more at risk as enterprising hackers are supplied with new means to obtain personal data. In fact, a 2014 study from Hewlett Packard estimated that 70% of devices in the Internet of Things were seriously vulnerable to cyber-attacks. While having your networked lights switched off and on by a hacker is likely a minimal threat, your networked door lock or personal safe would be a prime target. Cybersecurity researchers have also demonstrated the ability to take control of an automobile to disable the brakes or manipulate the steering wheel, or hack medical targets, such as pacemakers, defibrillators, and insulin pumps. These acts could be used for revenge plots or even wide-scale terrorism.

The defense of the Internet of Things is a huge topic in the security community and widely discussed at industry conferences like Def Con and Black Hat. On a broad scale, the conversation is ongoing and controversial. Legislation for protecting national infrastructure by sharing intelligence is often met with opposition from civil-liberties advocates and other parties. However, advocacy groups are slowly making progress working with Washington lawmakers to improve the security of consumer technology and design cybersecurity policies that emphasize public safety.

Security concerns notwithstanding, the Internet of Things is here to stay, and will continue to grow exponentially in the future. White Rabbit is excited to part of this cutting-edge industry!