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Friday, 3 January 2014

Protection & The Internet of Things

The 'Internet of Things' is one of the technical heatwaves that has genuinely got me excited over the last 24 months or so.  I've been playing with computers since I was 8 and like to think of myself as being pretty tech-savvy.  I can code in a number of languages, understand different architectural approaches easily and pick up new technical trends naturally.  However, the concept of the truly connected world with 'things' interconnected and graphed together, is truly mind blowing.  The exciting thing for me, is that I don't see the outcome.  I don't see the natural technical conclusion of devices and objects being linked to a single unique identity, where information can flow in multiple directions, originating from different sources and being made available in contextual bundles.  There is no limit.



They'll be No 'Connected', Just 'On'

Today we talk about connectivity, wifi hotspots and 4G network coverage.  The powerful difference between being on and off line.  As soon as you're off line, you're invisible.  Lost, unable to get the information you need, to interact with your personal and professional networks. This concept is slowly dying.  The 'Internet' is no longer a separate object that we connect with explicitly.  Very soon, the internet will be so intrinsically tied to us, that without it, basic human interactions and decision making will become stunted.  That is why I refer to objects just being 'on' - or maybe just 'being', but that is a little too sci-fi for me.  Switching an object on, or purchasing it, enabling it, checking in to it, will make that device become 'smart' and tied to us.  It will have an IP address and be able to communicate, send messages, register, interact and contain specific contextual information.  A simple example is the many running shoe companies that now provide GPS, tracking and training support information for a new running shoe.  That information is specific to an individual, centrally correlated and controlled, and then shared socially to allow better route planning and training techniques, to be created and exchanged.


Protection, Identity & Context

But what about protection?  What sort of protection?  Why does this stuff need protecting in the first place? And from what?  The more we tie individual devices to our own unique identity, the more information, services and objects we can consume, purchase and share.  Retailers see the benefit in being able to provide additional services and contextual information to a customer, as it makes them stickier to their brand.  The consumer and potential customer receives a more unique service, requiring less explicit searching and decision making.  Everything becomes personalised, which results in faster and more personalised acquisition of services and products.

However, that information exchange requires protection.  Unique identities need to be created - either for the physical person, or the devices that are being interacted with.  These identities will also need owners, custodians and access policies that govern the who, what and when, with regards to interactions.  The running shoe example may seem unimportant, but apply that logic to your fridge - seems great to be able to manage and monitor the contents of your refrigerator.  Automatic ordering and so on, seems like a dream.  But how might that affect your health insurance policy?  What about when you go on holiday and don't order any food for 3 weeks?  Ideal fodder for a burglar.  The more we connect to our own digitalpersona, the more those interactions need authentication, authorization and identity management.

Context plays an important part here too.  Objects - like people in our own social graphs - have many touch points and information flows.  A car is a simple example.  It will have a manufacturer (who is interested in safety, performance and so on), a retailer (who is interested in usage, ownership years), the owner (perhaps interested in servicing, crash history) and then other parties such as governments and police.  Not to mention potential future owners and insurance companies.  The context to which an interacting party comes from, will obviously determine what information they can consume and contribute to.  That will also need managing from an authorization perspective.


Whilst the 'Internet of Things' may seem like buzz, it has a profound impact on how we interact with physical, previously inanimate objects.  As soon as digitize and contextualize them, we can reap significant benefits when it comes to implicit information searching and tailor made services.  But, for that to work effectively, a correct balance with identity and access control needs to be found.

By Simon Moffatt

Image courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/photo/472281