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The threat and opportunity of the Internet of Things

January 2014

CIOs should be readying their organizations for an era when 60 billion sensors dominate the Internet, says Dr Joseph Reger.

For a video with English subtitles, please click on CC above or the appropriate subtitle icon during play.

The IP-enabling of all kinds of currently passive objects – the coming technology wave known as the Internet of Things – will deliver a huge array of benefits across business and society, but it will also generate some serious threats too.

Dr Joseph Reger, CTO of Global Business at Fujitsu, believes that the Internet of Things will bring the analog and digital worlds much closer together, with almost every kind of object being connectible to the Internet — from food packaging and household appliances to medicines and physical infrastructure such as roads and bridges.

The shift is already well under way, he observes, in I-CIO’s exclusive video interview. “Already today there are more things than humans connected to the Internet. Currently, we have something like 10 billion such devices [including sensors, monitors and machine-to-machine communications], and by 2020 everyone is expecting 50 to 60 billion ‘things’ on the Internet. So it will be a device-dominated network.”

Most of the key technology components are already in place. Cloud computing and big data will be vital for processing the vast volumes of data that will be produced by deployed sensors, he says.
Sensor city

There are already some solid examples of such deployments. One example that Reger has pointed to on numerous occasions is SPATIOWL, a cloud-based location data service that Fujitsu and its partners have introduced across Tokyo to enable urban management applications.

While observing such early successes, however, IT leaders need to be conscious of the new security and privacy challenges that will accompany the large-scale adoption of the Internet of Things. The sheer numbers of components amplify the issues we’ve encountered in the Internet to date, says Reger. “Problems [such as security] will become much more difficult to deal with, so we will have to develop new techniques and approaches. There also needs to be a consensus in society about how we deal with some of the ethical problems that will arise.”

He illustrates that with the example of an IP-enabled light bulb, a product that is already commercially available. While adding intelligence to such commonplace objects will bring huge efficiencies in terms of energy use and convenience, they also pose a threat. Connecting networks of light bulbs to the Internet could open them up to cyber-attacks. “Any Internet device, if they have a vulnerability, can be easily and quickly reprogrammed, and since there will be billions of them they could be used as a pre-programmed army to carry out denial of service attacks or things of that kind,” he says.

Extrapolating such threats from light bulbs to other everyday objects such as motor vehicles only underscores the point, he says, arguing that with the early technologies coming on stream, now is the time for the ICT industry to start considering such important issues.

Of course, that should not overshadow the enormous opportunity that is emerging here, he says. “Developments with great impact typically come with a great potential for misuse. However, responsible ICT vendors will develop innovative technologies that counter such misuse, ensuring the benefits and advantages presented by the Internet of Things far outweigh any threats.”

• Dr Reger will be delivering a keynote on Open Source at Fujitsu Forum 2015 in Munich, November 18 and 19

First published
January 2014
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About: Dr Joseph Reger
A renowned visionary, Dr Reger heads up the Technology Office of Global Business at Fujitsu. He applies the mind of a theoretical and computational physicist to how cutting-edge ICT delivers value to business and society.

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