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Securing the Things

By Steve Jones,

I would venture to guess that a lot of the data that will be produced in the next few years will come from various "things" that are implemented by companies, users, and governments. We tend to refer to the Internet of Things (IoT) as those computing devices that are small, specialized, and connected computing device that sends data elsewhere. Sensors, special purpose devices, and more make of the IoT spectrum, including many industrial and manufacturing hardware.

Computers grew by leaps and bounds from approximately 250 worldwide in 1955 to one million in 1980 and 30 million by 1986. In 2015, the world saw 238 million computers sold worldwide. If we add smartphones, we had around 120 million sold in 2007 and 1.4 billion sold in 2015. Tablets add to this, but really, the large market is going to be IoT devices. 15 billion connected in 2015 with an estimate of 75 billion by 2025. I would wager that is going to be a low prediction.

One of the major concerns with these devices is security, and with good reason. There have been hacks against many of these devices, and few have been designed or sold with security in mind. Quite a few devices assume a strong network perimeter inside of an organization, but history has shown us that these barriers aren't always secure. What might be more disconcerting is that many of the hacks originate inside of the network boundary, whether from insiders or compromised devices. There's a nice write up on the need for security with IoT. Microsoft recently proposed that we regulate privacy and security for the IoT devices.

Many of these devices will generate data that we will use as data professionals. In fact, I expect a tremendous amount of data to be generated. If devices are hacked, we may end up with lots of suspect data. Even devices are secure, they may fail or have intermittent errors. How to we detect errant data and remove it from our data sets? How can we be sure anomalies aren't just problems or failures in the device (or network)? These will be challenges for us moving forward.

I don't know that I think specific regulation is required, but I'd like to see some sort of framework devised. I think encryption should be required, as well as guidelines for the security of connections and data management. Perhaps a list of valid technologies could be used, growing and changing over time, including removing older items that might be outdated. For example, DES shouldn't be allowed in any new deployments, and it really should be removed from old ones, though with some grace period. That means a regular investment in software development and upgrades that evolves our systems over time. Especially with regard to data security.

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