Is the IoT house of cards at risk of collapse?

Jim Millen
By , - Innovation

I hate to perpetuate over-used phrases, but to describe the rapid growth of IoT in recent years as anything other than an explosion risks under-selling it.

There are billions of devices connected across the globe today, and by 2020 that figure could be in the tens of billions.

But are we really ready to support that expansion?

This was the question Avaya’s Jean Turgeon posed to an attentive keynote crowd during IP Expo on Wednesday.

Do we have the necessary foundations in place to keep up with IoT development in future, and can we do so securely?

Here’s what he had to say…

Say goodbye to the single perimeter

In the past the firewall was the single point of entry into an enterprise. But that perimeter is no longer so clearly defined, argued Turgeon.

“The concept of the ‘everywhere perimeter’ is very real,” he said. “For the most part we’ve lost at least some degree of control over what enters the network, from where and via which devices.”

And with all that information entering your network at so many different points, the potential to be compromised is greater than ever.

Turgeon used healthcare as an example. The ability to connect all devices is fantastic in terms of monitoring health and planning cures. But when you connect medical devices together you increase the risk of a hacker discovering it.

What’s to stop them taking control of a machine on which a patient depends to live and asking for money in return for not turning it off?

These types of challenges will not be overcome without drastic change in the way we approach IoT tech, Turgeon said.

“They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” he said. “Don’t expect to achieve new outcomes by leveraging decades-old technology.”

Getting the foundations right

When perimeters were clear-cut, so were the security requirements that came with them. Now those perimeters are much more loosely defined, and so it becomes more difficult to be everywhere at once and prevent people getting in.

The answer to this problem, Turgeon said, lies in creating an open ecosystem in which you develop and deploy your IoT technologies.

“If you build a closed system you will be limited in what you can do,” he said. “But if you have an open ecosystem you can easily bring in whatever tech you need to meet business outcomes or give customers the desired experience.”

This open approach has positive implications for an area like analytics too, he argued.

In the past we had siloed databases. One for credit card transactions, one for healthcare information, and so on.

The ability to break down those siloes as we move into the future of IoT is “fundamental” to success, he said.

Creating an open network

“When’s the last time the internet went down?” asked Turgeon. “It’s always up because it is a mesh architecture.”

He also referred to phone networks as being similarly stable. “You don’t care if your call is rerouted through New York , so long as your phone rings.”

“We need to use the same principles with IoT. A grid foundation in which all devices can talk to each other.”

To deliver this model, he argued, the public architecture has to be simplified and automated as much as possible.

“We can’t continue to live in this complex house of cards with multiple protocols that could collapse at any point and bring our businesses down,” he said.

As if it was planned, there was a power cut at that very moment and Turgeon was able to give a real-life illustration of his point.

“The lights went out there but I could still carry on,” he said with a grin.

Hyper-segmentation

The real challenge, as we all know by now, lies in keeping the network secure in spite of such drastic expansion and openness.

This comes down to segmentation, Turgeon said – something that seemed to be a common theme at IP Expo this year.

He went back to the healthcare example, where anyone on the network could potentially discover a medical device.

The most effective way to counter that? Hyper-segmentation.

“You have a concept whereby you completely segregate each individual medical device behind its own virtual network,” Turgeon said. “It is completely isolated. No policies or ACLs required. Not even a firewall.

“And you can segment tens of millions of times so there’s a great deal of potential scalability.”

So, in order to make IoT a reality, Turgeon argued, we need to:

  • Move away from siloed infrastructure
  • Create an automated infrastructure that is simple and easy to manage
  • Move from static to multi-service devices
  • Create and maintain an open ecosystem

***

Certainly some interesting stuff in there around what the future of IoT might look like and how businesses can start preparing now.

Does this reflect your own experience? Is the world prepared for IoT growth or are we headed for a collapse if we don’t make some changes?

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Jim Millen

Jim Millen

Digital Content Editor at Fujitsu
I'm the editor for the Fujitsu UK & Ireland blog, and love to write about the exciting work Fujitsu do in digital & technology innovation.

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Jim Millen

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