How Will Companies Secure the Internet of Things?

With each new modern innovation -- from the automobile to the Internet -- people have had to adapt not just to the new opportunities it brought, but also with new problems that came with it. In the same way, the Internet of Things, which connects devices to each other -- and to us -- via the Internet, has massive potential to make our world better, but it also poses new risks.

Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) and Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO  )  are knee-deep in the Internet of Things, or IoT, and dealing with new problems that will soon be a reality. That's part of the reason why the two companies, and others, have created the Industrial Internet Consortium to develop standards to make IoT safe for users.

But what are the actual risks?

Technology seems safe, until it's not
We need to look no further for technology's bad potential than the recent Heartbleed bug. Many of the websites we trusted with our personal information, which encrypted our information with what we all thought was a secure standard, actually opened up millions of people to identity theft.

In a recent interview with the Harvard Business Review, cryptographer and security expert Bruce Schneier said that while website security is a major issue, the Internet of Things will prove much more difficult to manage:

These are devices that are made cheaply with very low margins, and the companies that make them don't have the expertise to secure them. Heartbleed would have been much worse in a world of Internet enabled thermostats, refrigerators, cars, and everything else, and that's the world we're headed toward.

An article published in ComputerWorld earlier this month mentioned that some Internet of Things devices will connect to the Internet with cheap sensors "almost as an afterthought." Those devices won't be able to be updated or protected the same way we're used to protecting our computers and servers.

This all sounds just a little bit scary. But Intel and Cisco are hoping to address the problem head on.

Bringing safety on par with innovation
While IoT has a lot of good potential, Cisco knows there's also room for it to be corrupted. Christopher Young, the senior VP of Cisco's Security Business Group, said in a statement, "It is also, unfortunately, too easy to imagine how these world-changing developments could go terribly wrong when attacked or corrupted by bad actors."

To promote more security, Cisco announced the Internet of Things Security Grand Challenge in February. The prizes can vary in size, but the company will award up to $300,000 to companies that help create practical solutions for everyday IoT security. 

Intel realizes the severity of the threats as well. Here's what Michael Fey, the worldwide chief technology officer for Intel Security, said this month about securing IoT devices:

Security needs to be built in as the foundation of the Internet of Things. Any disruption to these IP connected devices can cause damage to the business and our daily lives. We need to have foresight into what is coming so we can prevent against threats and securely manage these devices. McAfee is enabling the future and the possibilities that the Internet of Things brings to our daily lives.

McAfee, which is owned by Intel Security, recently laid out a strategy for securing the Internet of Things. Two of points the company presented dealt with industry standards and how to safely connect old systems and new devices to each other.

But knowing the potential for problems isn't enough. Creating standards for Internet of Things devices and platforms will help make them more secure. 

Getting everyone on the same page
In addition to Intel and Cisco's security pursuits, the Industrial Internet Consortium, or IIC, recently set up security committees to investigate the best ways to make the Internet of Things safe. Founding members of the group include Intel, Cisco, General Electric, IBM, and AT&T.

One IIC's main goal is to get companies using agreed-upon standards so that future innovation will not only be compatible, but also safe. All of these companies realize that they won't be able to connect intricate systems of devices and cloud platforms without ensuring that they can reasonably be protected against an attack.

Whether the IIC ultimately determines what the Internet of Things security standards are or some other group comes up with them, it's becoming clear that big players in IoT know they can't simply connect devices and then leave the security up to someone else. 

Investing in the Internet of Things
While security issues are always real, any new innovation -- especially the really exciting ones -- require companies to think outside the box for new solutions. The upside to the Internet of Things is too big not for companies to figure out how to make the connected devices secure. That's why The Motley Fool's put together a report on one small-cap tech stock that's poised to grow from IoT's expansion -- and you can access the free report now.

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  • Report this Comment On April 18, 2014, at 11:51 AM, jayfriedmn wrote:

    IoT security is hugely critical especially in industrial applications given how much of the global economy is already dependent upon connected things. It's great to see the industry come together to find ways to make it safer. Many view the problem as mostly about encryption but perhaps more importantly; the focus should be on how to reduce the overall attack surface of networks. Because today’s networks have become too complex and unwieldy, human error is often the culprit in leaving networks wide open to cyber terrorists. Now imagine what happens when billions of new devices are added and these networks can’t scale. Simplification is key!

    Jay Friedman


    Spark Integration Technologies

    Providers of Distrix network solutions

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Chris has covered Tech and Telecom companies for The Motley Fool since 2012. Follow him on Twitter for the latest tech stock coverage.

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