We can all agree that the Internet of Things is going to be massive, connecting billions of devices and unleashing trillions in potential market value. Presuming, of course, that we don't destroy the world's networks in the process.
Every gold rush has a lead lining
Avoiding disaster is going to take serious effort. According to a recent study commissioned by Infoblox, 90% of the of 400 U.S. and U.K. tech pros surveyed said their companies are already taking steps to support IoT projects. Yet 63% of that same group describe IoT as a threat to network security. How big a threat are we talking? Consider the deployment statistics:
Gartner expects the installed base of Internet-connected devices to grow to 26 billion by 2020, up from just 0.9 billion in 2009.
By 2018, the majority of homes are expected to have about 200 devices hooked into the Internet of Things.
The McKinsey Global Institute pegs the 10-year economic impact of the Internet of Things at between $3 trillion and $6 trillion.
Impressive stats, no doubt. And yet the act of rapidly expanding network capacity to support IoT projects is certain to introduce blind spots. As Infoblox Chief Infrastructure Officer Cricket Liu put it in a press release announcing the study's findings:
"With so many objects and IP addresses being added, it's important for network teams to keep track of what's on their network at any given point, and also to bear in mind all these objects and IP addresses are potential weak links in an organization's IT infrastructure."
Fine-grained security matters
Who will plug those holes? That's tough to know, but I also think it's fair to say that traditional Internet security -- based on detecting unusual traffic patterns and network behavior -- won't be as useful. The Internet of Things will establish entirely new patterns, making it easier to hide vulnerabilities.
You can bet that every digital security vendor is working on a strategy for combating baby monitor hackers and other IoT miscreants. These two could be better positioned than most:
1. Check Point Software Technologies (NASDAQ:CHKP). A leader that's been executing well for two decades, Check Point helped birth the network firewall. Today the company serves more than 100,000 businesses worldwide, including the entire Fortune 500. No single company has more to gain from securing the Internet of Things.
2. Palo Alto Networks (NYSE:PANW). The market visionary according to Gartner, and, in my opinion, the most likely to craft a solution for the problem of identifying miscreants in the Internet of Things. Why? Rather than scan for patterns, Palo Alto looks for context via patent-pending device and user identification technology. Who's online? What devices are on the network? What apps are in use? In a network of billions, fine-grained access and control may prove to be an important advantage.
The promise of a hyper-connected world comes with a cost. For investors betting on the right stocks, that's a rich opportunity.