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Security concerns should hasten, rather than hinder, the adoption of internet of things (IoT) technologies, as the use of connected devices has the potential to make the way we live our daily lives safer, it is claimed.
Speaking at the Cloud and DevOps World conference in London, John Miri, chief administrative officer at the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), said people tend to focus on the cyber security aspects of IoT rather than the difference it can make to the safety of citizens.
“Don’t just focus on the cyber security aspect of IoT and say, ‘what if someone breaks into the technology?’, focus on the new use cases that are related to safety and security,” he urged attendees.
To back this point, he explained how the LCRA previously relied on local residents to keep tabs on rising water levels and the risk of flooding along the Colorado River, but now uses around 270 IoT sensors to do the job instead.
“In the old days, we would have people with logbooks living near areas prone to flooding and they would come to us and say when they saw something out of the ordinary, but people don’t move as fast as the water does,” he said.
“What we found with IoT, and working on the premise that the speed of light is faster than the speed of water, we can use a larger number of dispersed IoT sensors to detect where flood waters are and keep people safer.”
During his time on stage, Miri also opened up some of the economic challenges organisations currently face when trying to scale up their IoT activities, as the sensors it relies on can cost “tens of thousands of dollars”.
“How will I go from 270 sensors to 2,000 or 10,000 sensors? I’m not going to do it at $20,000 to $25,000 a piece. The only way to do that is to have cheap IoT devices that help expand our network,” he said.
Supply and demand
The LCRA also acts as a wholesale provider of electricity to homes and businesses in central Texas, and is actively involved in mitigating the risk of residents experiencing power outages.
“I can secure the power grid using IoT, but I’ve also got to solve the cyber security challenges [that come with that],” he added.
The emergence of smart thermostats in people’s homes could play a key role in this, by allowing his organisation to notify people to alter the temperature in their home to reduce the amount of power being drawn from the grid to safeguard supplies to the whole community, for example.
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However, Miri revealed that not everyone in the power and utilities industry are as enthusiastic as he is about the spread of these technologies in people’s homes.
“A number of my colleagues in the utility industry see the growth of IoT on the consumer side as a threat. They’ll pull me aside and say, ‘Who do these guys think they are, selling new thermostats?
“If we had come up with this idea, people would expect us to pay for it. They’re taking a lot of work off our plate, and we need to work out how to cooperate with them,” he added.
Coming back to the point of security, he said it would be wrong for user organisations to consider this a barrier to using IoT, when they have so much to gain from embracing the use of connected devices.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions on the opportunities and the risk, particularly the cyber threats around IoT, and we need to make sure our ability to handle the threats collectively grows faster than the threats themselves,” he added.