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The IoT: Security and integration are key to success

This article appears in the issue July/August 2018 [Volume 27, Issue 4]
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The Internet of Things (IoT) is poised to have an impact on the amount of data being collected that is difficult to put into perspective. According to Gartner, the number of devices will grow from 8.4 billion in 2017 to 19.4 billion in 2020. McKinsey predicts that the worldwide market will range from $3.9 trillion to $11 trillion by 2025. Among the markets expected to lead in the use of IoT are factories, smart cities and healthcare. If the high end of the range is reached, IoT-related business would account for 11 percent of the global economy.

As significant as the numbers are, the impact on how organizations and society in general operate will be even more dramatic, bringing new business models and new ways of serving customers. Along with those opportunities are additional obstacles, however, including the need to maintain security for the pervasive technologies and to integrate the information so it provides meaningful knowledge.

In the healthcare market, mergers and acquisitions are frequent, so it is not unusual for two organizations to combine their networks, including IoT devices. “Two companies may struggle with tracking the connected devices that are now part of the same infrastructure,” says Dino Balafas, VP of marketing and product at Great Bay Software. With a background in networks, Great Bay has developed its security expertise and expanded to specialize in visibility and control.

Great Bay has focused primarily on the medical field as one with a high need for security of IoT devices, which can be a point of entry for hackers. Patient records represent the greatest vulnerability. “These records contain highly sensitive information such as birthdays, addresses and Social Security numbers,” Balafas says. “They can be used for identity theft, insurance or tax fraud, or as a way to divert payments.”

Balafas continues, “Visibility means knowing what is on the network, where each device is and how it is being used. The next step is understanding the behavior of all devices and what represents a potential threat—for example, a printer in the network should not be trying to access user data.” In a hospital, Great Bay’s software would detect whether a device was trying to access patient records. The last step, after visibility and analysis of the device’s behavior, is to determine what the response should be, whether it is an alert, isolation or blocking the action.

The number of medical devices associated with a given patient can be large—e.g., heart rate monitor, blood pressure, oxygen. In addition, devices that are delivering treatment can be tied into the network; those include infusion pumps, respirators and pacemakers. When hackers gain access to the network through those or other devices, they can hold the hospital hostage by locking up data, as was the case with the Ransomware attacks that resulted in a number of hospitals paying ransoms to get their data back.

Another benefit of network monitoring of IoT devices includes verification of inventories. “Hospitals know what they have bought or gained in a merger/acquisition but want to make sure they really have it and where each item is,” Balafas says. Devices on the network are identified by a media access code or “MAC address,” which provides details regarding the manufacturer and type of device. “Some facilities want to measure the activity levels of a device to determine if it is operating correctly and being utilized at an acceptable level,” he adds. Knowing the identity of each device and its location helps to service a device should it encounter security, usage or maintenance concerns.

Processing IoT data

The information coming in sensors in any IoT system is voluminous, complex and not useful until it is properly routed, integrated and analyzed. This presents a challenge to organizations that have deployed sensors but have not developed ways to process the information. Davra Networks introduced a platform for that purpose in 2011, spinning off from a company that monitored networks to provide visibility into data usage.

“We saw that organizations were connecting things that had not previously been part of networks … traffic information, medical devices, vending machines,” says Paul Glynn, CEO of Davra Networks, “and they all wanted to turn the data into something useful.” Davra Networks’ IoT platform manages the flow of IoT data to provide the sought-after actionable information.

Partnering with network leaders such as Cisco, Intel  and Dell, Davra encountered numerous opportunities to build small initiatives into more elaborate ones. For example, it began providing Wi-Fi to school buses in Texas and Oklahoma, and because of the capabilities of the Cisco routers that were used, Davra could add information related to the operation of the vehicles and their location. Alerts are presented in a real-time dashboard that reports unexpected or out-of-range events.

In the city of San Diego, the path was similar. “We enabled Wi-Fi on public transit and eventually ended up managing a wide range of data useful to a variety of audiences,” Glynn says. Information about arrival times is delivered to citizens via smartphone apps. It could also trigger an announcement at a station that the upcoming train will be late. Events that would affect street traffic might be routed to the police department.

Another area of uptake is agriculture, where integration of climate data can make production more efficient. “In one case, palm oil production is being improved because information about rainfall can be incorporated into plans for expanding the areas where the trees are grown,” Glynn says. “In another case, a company uses sensors to detect the areas in their fields where a snake repellent that works only temporarily is no longer effective.” The platform can track information about the operational performance of farm equipment and the health and location of farm animals.

Eventually, Glynn believes, IoT will be a critical element in the so-called “Coherence Economy,” which aims to provide comprehensive and seamless experiences to meet customers’ needs. “We think the future of IoT will be its ability to capture and integrate data,” Glynn says, “to provide a new level of experience for people whose lives are affected by the data.” 

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