Fixing the Biggest IoT Issue — Data Security

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We all know how powerful the internet of things (IoT) can be. Adding collaboration and intelligence by connecting “dumb” devices to the internet, we have changed many industries for the better, from healthcare and manufacturing to agriculture, transport and consumer electronics.

According to Gartner, the use of the IoT is only set to grow. By 2021, there will be 25 billion IoT-connected devices, up from around 14.2 billion today.

As the IoT grows, so too do its risks. According to our recent research, data security is the biggest IoT concern among electronics engineers — and it’s easy to see why. The more devices you connect to the internet, the more opportunities you give hackers to steal potentially sensitive information. So how do we fix the issue?

Cut the cloud apron string

First, we need to identify where the issues arise. A significant contributor to privacy concerns is the unprecedented data access theoretically enabled by the cloud. When connecting devices to the cloud, a network transmits data into storage where information is processed before sending back instructions to the device.

This whole process gives ample opportunity for hackers to hijack data in storage or in transit, but even without the threat of hackers, consumers are concerned about giving tech giants like Amazon, Google and Apple access to the most intimate of conversations and interactions recorded within the privacy of their home.

If we could reduce our reliance on the cloud to make devices smarter, reduce the amount of data that devices send to the cloud, we could dramatically reduce the risk of data breaches.

Until now, reducing our reliance on the cloud for the IoT has not been possible. The cloud provided the intelligence to the whole system. Today, there is a solution in sight — forward-thinking systems designers are combining the IoT with artificial intelligence to create the "artificial intelligence of things” (AIoT). This fusion of two major tech trends has the potential to be the biggest technological breakthrough since the advent of the internet. Gartner agrees — if the AIoT gets off the ground soon, it’ll be a $3 trillion industry by 2025.

The secure AIoT brain

So how does the AIoT work? Essentially, the AIoT pushes the data processing capabilities from the cloud to the device. So instead of the cloud acting as the central “brain”, the devices themselves each have a brain of their own — and are capable of making their own decisions.

With this in mind, there’s less need for connectivity to the cloud, and therefore less opportunity for hackers to get their hands on sensitive information. There is a greater need, however, for security within the devices themselves. Electronics engineers are therefore working on producing AIoT chips that include advanced security features like secure boot, one-time-programmable key storage, true random number generation and custom encryption/decryption instructions. These features are designed to ensure safety of both data and decision making.

To date, IoT chipsets have been unable to support device AI processing requirements locally at commercially acceptable levels of price, performance and power consumption. However 2020 marked a step change, with chip manufacturers able to produce low-cost chips that feature high performance, design flexibility and low power consumption — making the AIoT a possibility for the first time.

Unleashing the full potential of connected devices — without security issues

The AIoT offers a solution to more than just privacy and security — it comes with a whole host of other benefits too.

By removing the latency and bandwidth scaling issues of cloud-based intelligence, it paves the way for a far more natural human–machine interaction. In the smart home, for example, the AIoT brings a whole new dimension to home control. By coupling voice with human sensing technology, such as presence detection and biometrics, we can build a multi-modal interaction that delivers an energy efficient and seamless, personalised experience. The TV will know when you’re in the room and ‘wake’ to a standby mode, it will know who you are and on hearing the wake word, greet you with familiarity and deliver your preferred settings.

This kind of interaction also has clear applications across smart cities. Multi-modal sensing opens the path for significant steps forward in safety, security and energy efficiency. Let’s take the humble streetlight: the inclusion of human presence detection would enable it to light up only when a pedestrian or cyclist is in the vicinity. Add in voice control and the lamppost can detect a cry for help — of even the sound of glass breaking, triggering a call to the emergency services for assistance.

In offices and public buildings, we won’t need to push buttons on elevators or hunt in our bags for a lift pass, instead our biometrics will form our signature for access, enabling a secure and convenient experience.

Without the introduction of the AIoT, and the ability to directly address data privacy and security, the growth of applications across all areas of our lives would be significantly diminished. The AIoT offers a safer, more secure future, inviting technology into our lives in a way we never thought possible.

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