IoT innovation is turning the utilities world on its head, augmenting smart meters with more advanced monitoring, alerting and data analytics capabilities than ever before. One of the most impactful innovations is a publisher-subscriber messaging protocol called MQTT. In the case of the utilities industry, electrical grids, gas pipelines and water suppliers can use MQTT to more quickly and accurately transmit data between their services and their customers and devices.
This article will provide four use cases that can transform the way utilities, especially electricity providers, can improve performance by cutting costs, improving billing and responding faster and more efficiently to service disruptions.
1. Smart metering
The industry has gone from having meters read regularly by an individual walking around town to reading the same meters by driving down the street with a remote device or cell phone. A real revolution is happening by equipping meters with a way to transmit their data over the power lines. Consider how powerful it will be to have power consumption not by the month, but by 15 minutes or any other interval. By using the MQTT protocol to transmit it, this data can be sent with guaranteed message delivery to provide accurate meter readings in real time.
For one thing, billing could be fairer and more accurate. Consider two households that consume the same power over the course of a month, but one household shifts much of its electricity use to overnight use, where the other does not. In the current system, the more energy-friendly house is subsidizing the other. With more granular energy reporting, utilities can charge more for peak energy and lower the charge for off-peak energy. In this case, the energy-savvy household would see a significant decrease in the monthly cost, while the household using more of the expensive energy will see a sharp increase. In addition to being able to lower the costs for many households and provide better data for peak energy analytics, the new model could encourage all households to reduce peak energy demands, or at least slow their growth.
2. Theft prevention
Industry experts estimate that $6 billion of electricity is stolen in the U.S. each year. By equipping transformers with the same technology as smart meters, transformers could send up their load data as well. By aggregating the load from all of the meters and comparing it to the transformer, a utility should easily be able to find places where there is theft or some other loss and respond quickly. Even with the theft occurring on the other side of the meter, the utility should be able to use analytics to determine where a spike in usage seems out of line from historic norms, including peak usage and outside influences, such as the need for increased cooling.
3. Fast outage response
Utilities no longer have to rely on customers reporting outages, as one feature of the MQTT technology is “last will” message alerting. If a device were to go offline unexpectedly, the MQTT broker would publish a predefined message down a predetermined path. This feature is often used to manage presence. In this case, it would manage the state of a household. If the power were to go out, the MQTT client in the smart meter would disconnect and the MQTT broker would notify the subscriber or utility team to let them know the power has been lost. At this point, the utility could dispatch a repair crew without waiting for a call. Imagine how pleasantly surprised a homeowner would be to come home and find a note that the power had gone out and the utility company has already repaired the damage — that is customer service at its finest.
4. Smarter outage response
Consider the above scenario, but this time all of the households on the same block, using the same transformer, all lose power together. Now, the problem could be the power line connecting the transformer to the power, the power line connecting the first house to the transformer or the transformer itself. If the smart transformer is still online and functioning correctly, it’s likely the problem is the line coming out of the transformer. But if the transformer is offline and messages beforehand have shown overload or overheating, then the loss of power is likely a blown transformer. Armed with this knowledge, the utility can dispatch a response crew that has the proper replacement transformer and equipment, eliminating duplicate efforts and wasted resources — for example, by sending one crew to bypass and another to replace the transformer.
Moreover, instead of waiting for the failure, the utility can be proactive. Analyzing the load on the transformer and its diagnostic information and taking into consideration the age of the transformer and its load rating, utility teams should be able to predict when a transformer is likely to go. If an external event, such as a heat wave, is approaching, the utility can proactively replace or prioritize any equipment likely to fail during the normal business operation — reducing inefficiencies by addressing potential issues ahead of a heat wave or storm, and reducing costs, such as having to pay overtime for teams to replace multiple devices on an urgent or emergency basis.
The above scenarios provide a brief glimpse of how MQTT and other IoT technologies can help transform a utility from an outdated, inefficient and unresponsive organization into a proactive, efficient, fair and customer-focused business. Of course, this is only the beginning. The smart grid opens the door for more sophisticated analytics and for even more sophisticated billing where customers can negotiate directly with energy providers for both standard and peak energy delivery. Here, energy providers can use smart grid analytics to target the appropriate customers for different pricing mechanisms. The more compelling cases are likely not even known today. The sky’s the limit on how this technology can be used moving forward.
All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.
Imagine the nightmare of receiving a utility bill for more than $25,000. I recently read an article about a couple getting such a bill for their modest 1950s home, and it reminded me of the true impact that IoT can have on citizen engagement.
When homeowner Chris Rose went online to check his water and sewage bill, he was stunned to find he owed $25,787.73. For the Roses, an unapparent leak turned into a life-altering bill that left them scrambling not only for answers, but also for the money to pay the staggering charges. I found myself wondering how different the situation could have been if this family lived in an area equipped with smart utility sensors. Had their home been in an area enabled with smart sensors, utility workers may have been able to identify and address the leak well before the family was hit with this unimaginably high bill and before nearly a million gallons of water were wasted.
The Roses’ situation shows just one of the many ways IoT can shift the government and citizen experience for the better. With the potential to accurately monitor consumption patterns, traffic flows, street and sidewalk conditions and much more, IoT is poised to redefine government operations by enabling proactive management protocols that can head off many problems before they develop.
With numerous IoT options available to government leaders, here are the three areas that I foresee having the greatest impact in the immediate future.
Benefits afforded by utility, infrastructure and traffic sensors
IoT makes energy use more efficient — specifically electric, water, oil and gas utilities — and helps relieve some of the stress related to energy demand. If the Roses’ home had water sensors or water leak detectors, for instance, anomalies in consumption would have been detected before the leak racked up more than $25,000 in fees, particularly since the family’s bimonthly water and sewer bill averaged around $110.
Although infrastructure is designed to last many years, time takes its toll as roads eventually crumble, bridges start to crack and railway tracks fall into disrepair. However, governments across the globe are installing technology in hopes of improving infrastructure, saving money and improving citizens’ lives. Last year, for instance, the Colorado Department of Transportation teamed up with Integrated Roadways to test a half mile of the company’s smart pavement on a dangerous and accident-prone spot for drivers on U.S. Route 285. Once in place, the asphalt, brimming with safety sensors and the latest fiber optic and wireless technology, will be used to detect accidents and provide real-time services, such as road condition and traffic alerts to drivers.
We’ve all been caught in traffic jams or have found ourselves in the middle of hazardous road conditions that could have been avoided had technology alerted us. Traffic sensors are being used to identify traffic patterns to reduce congestion and allow for adjustments based on usage. Portland, Ore., is using 200 traffic sensors along three high-traffic corridors that account for more than 50% of the city’s road fatalities. Data from these sensors will be used to connect vehicles’ GPS systems with traffic cameras, providing city personnel the insight to help control traffic patterns and increase safety within these dangerous corridors.
IoT provides a world of possibilities
As IoT technologies continue to grow, so will their influence on our day-to-day lives. Thus, I encourage you to think about your current city operations and how they could benefit from IoT. If your community struggles with hard-to-manage, deteriorating roadways or citizen reports of skyrocketing utility bills, or constituents wish you could better enable them to avoid traffic congestion, perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at the benefits IoT can bring.
All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.
When engaging in a new IoT product strategy, it is important to evaluate the options for developing new products. This is especially challenging for companies that have not created smart connected products in the past, as they may need a mix of skills outside their normal core competencies. These required skills could include new expertise in wireless communications, cloud-based infrastructure, analytics or mobile device software. Even when the company has the necessary internal skills, often those internal resources are already committed to sustaining its current products.
So, what are the options for realizing the vision of a new IoT product?
Internal staff expansion
This is an option many companies will consider. However, in today’s job market, there are two big issues. First, there is extreme competition for talent in the current economy, with the engineering unemployment rate running between 1.5 and 2.0%. At this unemployment rate, it could take months — or longer — to find and recruit the needed experienced talent. This could severely delay the start of any new project. In addition, skill sets required for IoT product development are in uniquely short supply, such as hardware engineering, wireless and RF communications expertise.
Likewise, expansion of internal staff implies a longer-term commitment to employment. If you need to build a team rapidly, what happens to those direct staff members when the project ends? Will the company be overstaffed? Scaling back often involves a personally painful process and often, with the offering of severance, a tail-end expense to reducing team size.
Recruitment of temporary staff
It’s common for companies to engage temporary staff to satisfy bandwidth and skill needs. In more of a “buyer’s market” for temporary talent, there can be a large pool of technical staff available that can be hired by the hour to help supplement an internal team. When engaging temporary staff, internal staff will be needed to interview candidates, bring them up to speed, equip them with the tools of the trade and manage their activities. It is not just the hourly cost of such staff — by the way, hourly costs for experienced temporary help are quite inflated in the current job market. As such, bringing on even one temporary person will require some incremental managerial bandwidth from the client’s internal team. The company takes responsibility for the work and workmanship of the temporary team members’ work. And any mistakes along the way are simply paid for by the hour. Nobody stands behind their work.
Engagement with a product development firm
Many companies benefit from engaging with a highly skilled product development (PD) professional services firm. An engagement of this type offers significant benefit to the company:
- A PD partner comes to the table fully staffed ready to start immediately. Of particular value, a PD partner expert in IoT products will have the unusual and diverse skills needed for end-to-end system development, including both hardware and software, as well as user interface and experience. It comes to the project ready to start rapidly.
- A PD partner’s team is fully equipped with test equipment and more. There no need to go out and procure incremental things, like new computers and software; the PD partner’s team is already equipped. It may also have its own test lab and prototyping capabilities so as to not need to draw down the company’s capacity.
- A PD partner takes responsibility. A well-chosen PD partner will assume the responsibility for the quality and workmanship of the team. While the company will need to provide oversight to the PD partner, it takes responsibility for its work and does not require daily supervision or onboarding.
Engaging with a product development professional services firm is a practical option that requires minimal ramp up, consolidation of responsibility and the ability to rapidly engage in realizing the new IoT product vision. There is a cost for such an engagement and is not inexpensive. The question is not the cost, but what is the value of achieving the goal?
Certainly, the cost of a PD firm, on an hourly basis, is likely higher than simply engaging temporary staff, though not always. However, when the overhead of finding and managing temporary staff is considered, the true costs are more than the hourly rate. It is tempting to compare hourly cost of an internal team versus a PD partner. The true cost of an employee is more than just their annual salary divided by 2080. When adding the direct additional costs, such as tools and health insurance, plus burdened indirect costs, including administrative and facilities, the cost of a PD firm may actually be lower than the company’s own cost.
When it comes to IoT product categories, focus on the value of the new product or service and not just the cost. While cost is important, what is the benefit to be garnered from the new product or service? A product development professional services partner may be the right answer to jumpstarting the realization of opportunities.
All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.
5G will become so central to how businesses and societies operate that the shift has been compared to moving from a typewriter to a computer! Alongside IoT, 5G is set to bring a new generation of value and innovation to a variety of markets, delivering what many are hailing as the fourth Industrial Revolution. The combination of the two technologies will see a huge number of futuristic applications brought to life.
We’ve been hearing about 5G’s promise for a while, but 2020 is seen as the year when 5G adoption starts to reach a tipping point. It’s the same year that the number of connected devices will exceed 30 billion. As the world enters a new age of hyperconnected IoT, there is a growing need for bandwidth. After all, smarter products use the network in new and demanding ways. Devices at the edge are no longer primitive sensors, but advanced computers in their own right — autonomous vehicles, industrial gateways, self-learning robots, drones and everything in between.
The ability to process vast amounts of data will require not just a faster connection, but a fundamental shift in how we approach all forms of technology.
More than a sprint: 5G is a pace-setter
We’ve moved beyond the simple notions of speed. To the average consumer, 4G allows us to do everything we want most of the time — sift through social media, stream shows and speak to friends and family over a cellular network. The strength of 5G lies in its increased capacity and reduced latency times. 5G will be the most reliable means of processing compute workloads and the benchmark for supporting more advanced technologies.
When it comes to IoT, 5G’s reliability opens up a seemingly infinite number of new use cases. Data collected at the edge can be understood and acted on in near real time. Multigigabit-per-second speeds and one-millisecond latency times will ensure more data than ever can be quickly and easily collected and analyzed, overlaying increased intelligence into every device at the edge.
IoT innovation: 5G the enabler
The combination of 5G and IoT will spawn a whole new generation of innovative applications.
Autonomous vehicles remain one of the most talked about examples, with data collected and fused from a vast array of sensors, including speed and rain gauges, GPS and external cameras. With the advent of 5G, this information will become indispensable as companies and cities overlay other technologies, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, onto the real-time data outputs and revolutionize how we transport ourselves.
Improving traffic flows, identifying manufacturing defects automatically and supporting passenger safety can all be realized through the harmony of 5G and IoT.
Partnering robotics with 5G, meanwhile, could revolutionize healthcare and support more advanced techniques. Real-time rendering of virtual models will see telesurgery become a viable and commonly available option, ensuring that access to treatment is not hindered by geography. A human doctor could perform an operation on a 3D model, while a robot carries out the same procedure on a patient somewhere else in the world.
Cars and robots show the benefits of 5G intersecting with IoT, but both do raise questions around security. Previous generations of mobile networks were designed with consumers in mind, meaning security was a somewhat less critical consideration. As more companies take advantage of the increased speed, however, and migrate their operations to 5G infrastructures, the need to protect the network and edge device becomes increasingly imperative.
Take into account that 5G supports network slicing — the ability to create multiple virtual networks on top of one platform — and security will now have to drop its one-size-fits all mantra.
In the case of smarter vehicles, hackers have multiple access points to exploit and a failed network could have serious, if not deadly, repercussions. Connected robots will also need the strongest protections possible, as their ability to interact directly with the physical world makes them dangerous and attractive targets for creative criminals.
Solving security: 5G the protector
The good news is that 5G capabilities will enable new types of security services as well. Software can now support ongoing device health checks, especially when coupled with the increased bandwidth of 5G, allowing system and application updates and rollbacks to flow in a timely manner. That’s one way to help future-proof connected devices with a next-generation connection, but what about when the network itself becomes the security measure?
5G is expected to roll out over a radio frequency like previous iterations, but other mediums have been touted in order to bring an extra layer of security to the network.
Li-Fi is a disruptive technology with the power to unlock the potential of IoT in a safe manner. By transmitting data over light instead of radio waves, Li-Fi could ensure the validity of the connected home, with IoT devices only able to access the network when in direct contact with the light signal.
It’s an interesting use case for 5G and one that maximizes its speed and capacity without the added security risks. Smart homes and future offices could be almost unrecognizable with secure connected devices at their hearts — constantly evolving layouts and concept themes with their connected building application ecosystems all being controlled by real-time data.
As 2020 and the advent of significant 5G adoption near, the possibilities seem endlessly exciting.
The rise of IoT, RFID and other technologies has created a connective tissue that ties in aspects that were otherwise kept separate. Greater connectivity has touched numerous aspects of our lives, from smarter cars to connected homes to smart factories. One area of connectivity that has been impacted is the way we work. Humans have always had to work in some form, whether it was hunting for food or sitting behind a desk. Moreover, today’s working environment has drastically changed from those early days, let alone a generation ago.
Hyperconnectivity allows for greater freedoms, but does call for always-on access. We often overlook it, but our mobile phones are a great example of a personal IoT device. It was not too long ago that many work IT departments mandated company-issued BlackBerry devices to access email on the go. At that time, digital access was heavily regulated by IT groups. 2007 marked a tipping point, when Apple introduced the iPhone and suddenly every executive wanted the device and the flood gates opened. The BYOD practice became the norm. This new open connectivity truly changed the way we worked.
Since then, the idea of working remotely became truly viable. People could access email anywhere they had a connection, and soon were able to access shared files via these portable devices. Rather than having to commute to an office, the office was in your hands. This created greater freedom, but also changed how we viewed the work hours. The 9 to 5 quickly became 24/7 since employees were always connected. So, while this connectivity has given many of us greater flexibility, it has also changed the notion of when we are at work. Our devices mean people are always a click away from a colleague’s email, a bosses’ Slack message or a connected calendar telling them where to be.
Connectivity has meant our work parameters have been redefined, but what about the work itself? Smarter machines, smarter devices and smarter infrastructure all powered by greater connectivity has sparked a rising fear of jobs being lost out to these smarter machines. These connected robots will start showing us pink slips as they take our jobs. Or will they?
Machines have been intertwined with work since the wheel was invented. The great industrial revolution associated with the steam engine and mass production saw an outcry that these great machines would replace the human laborer. In some cases, it did. In other cases, it created new opportunities and opened new jobs. This has opened a world of debate. The future may include trucks driving down the highway without human drivers, conductor-less subways, supermarkets delivering groceries with zero human interaction whatsoever and the list goes on. Some people believe the future of work is just early retirement, thanks to our connected machine overlords.
Although it appears technology will be increasingly taking over more and more jobs, there will always be a need for working humans. The connected machines are merely helpful tools. Companies like GE are using these connected machines to do better maintenance in dangerous places such as rail yards, wind turbines or oil rigs. These robots can navigate these hazardous locations to assist the humans in charge of maintenance to do their job safer and more efficiently. Perhaps one day technology will significantly change the tasks required of most human jobs — but there will always be employment.
Therefore, how we work will continue to evolve. Connectivity is just another phase in this evolution. However, it is a helpful tool that humans can use in their work. Work is not going away, it is simply adapting to the connected world around us.
With the advent of IoT, broadband service providers are feeling increasing pressure from consumers to integrate the concept of the smart home, new security challenges and new cloud-based business models into a superior broadband experience, as well as a compelling business strategy for themselves. As if this wasn’t a big enough challenge, at the same time they are engaged in a war for the heart and wallet of consumers with powerful new competitors — in many cases global consumer electronics firms — for control of the connected home.
Changing consumer expectations and requirements are key contributors to this aforementioned pressure. Service providers are striving to find a way to provide faster and better-quality broadband experiences to meet and exceed those expectations. However, it’s not all bad news for service providers — the emergence of the connected home lets us rethink how the broadband experience is delivered to the consumer and measured by the service provider.
This, in turn, presents a great opportunity for both differentiation and new revenue sources. To that end, service providers must find ways to provide services to and monetizing the connected home. Arming them for the battle is Broadband Forum’s User Services Platform (USP).
An evolving ecosystem
With the accelerating mass proliferation of broadband-ready IoT devices, how these devices can be managed, monitored and upgraded is the source of multiple headaches for service providers.
Service providers realized early on that managing the expectations of these devices would require proactive management of the home network, starting with the residential gateway, set-top-boxes and other devices and applications which are critical to the customers’ experience. Fast-forward to today and the broadband ecosystem has once again evolved; service providers are desperately looking for a way to not only support the IoT space, but to monetize it.
In doing so, service providers face many challenges. In light of the ever-changing ecosystem, consumers are increasingly turning to their broadband service providers for customer support on device-related issues when trying to set up or manage their smart home devices. Operators are being held responsible for poor device and application performance by their customers because they perceive the integration of devices, applications and internet service as part of their overall broadband experience. This comes down to the fact that consumers often do not differentiate between the Wi-Fi and the internet — despite the reality that many consumers buy their Wi-Fi equipment independently of their service provider.
While it may be hard to see beyond the wall of challenges that are built up against them, service providers are actually in a unique position to offer a unified smart home service.
Turning challenges into opportunities
As the broadband home router is standard equipment for any subscriber, it serves as a central point for connectivity and network security in the home. This means that service providers can act as a centralized service center that manages other services with a single point for billing and customer support, simplifying a complex environment for the end user which can, in turn, improve users’ experience.
Furthermore, service providers have the technical expertise for installation and troubleshooting — often more than consumer electronics manufacturers themselves — as they have a direct touchpoint to the consumer’s home network in addition to the consumer’s internet connection.
Though challenging, Wi-Fi connectivity and the promise of the smart home presents a great opportunity for service providers to offer premium services, such as network security monitoring, IoT onboarding and support, Wi-Fi quality management, or parental/content controls that are self-branded or facilitated by a third-party service.
Monetizing the connected home: The race is on
While the benefits of delivering a better experience to the consumer is clear, how service providers can do so cost-effectively while planning ahead is not so clear. The journey to the connected home requires service providers to take more than one path and involves the combination of using the right technologies, enabling the right broadband ecosystem and delivering the services with an agility that meets or exceeds customer expectations. And if this isn’t enough, they must also achieve this as cost-effectively and efficiently as possible.
However, it’s not just service providers who are feeling the heat — consumer electronics manufacturers are building their own proprietary offerings — or even pre-standard versions of standardized systems — in a bid to capture ownership of the connected home. While this is understandable given the massive pressure generated by the promise of monetizing the connected home, adopting such systems has the potential to result in a stunted ecosystem. In this scenario, service providers will become dependent on a very limited, or even vertical, ecosystem.
The security of these technologies is an ongoing concern. Many smart devices, home gateways and Wi-Fi products on the market today have serious security flaws that are being targeted by malicious attackers and are leaving service providers exposed.
Without the basis of interoperability, these systems are often incompatible with service providers’ existing equipment. Service providers have made significant investments not only in their installed base of customer premises equipment, but also in their operations support systems and business support systems that manage the infrastructure and operation of their network and subscribers. If they are to capture the connected home market and do so without breaking the bank, it is crucial that they are able to seamlessly migrate — or evolve — these systems as transitions are made.
Furthermore, as the technologies behind Wi-Fi and whole-home connectivity, as well as the smart home and IoT, constantly evolve, more challenges and opportunities in monetizing the connected home are rising. That is why it is critical that when seeking systems, service providers think ahead and choose ones that meet the criteria for being future-proof.
One strategy — Broadband Forum’s USP — stands above the others in providing a comprehensive long-term option that balances the needs of the customer and the service provider. And with USP, created as the evolution of TR-069, it uses the investments service providers have made in the over 1 billion broadband installations that already exist.
On the cUSP of the connected home
Designed to tackle these problems head-on, service providers and managed device manufacturers have come together to develop USP, also known as Broadband Forum standard TR-369. As the natural evolution of TR-069, USP addresses the explosion of connected devices, providing a unified, common approach to deploying, controlling and managing Wi-Fi, application-enabled gateways, smart home and IoT devices and more.
Providing the flexibility, security and scalability service providers and consumer electronics manufacturers need to manage connected devices, carry out software upgrades, apply critical security patches and onboard new devices, USP meets the demands of the connected home both now and in the future.
Accelerating this journey, Broadband Forum has developed a new open source agent to facilitate faster time to market of connected home services. The Open Broadband USP Agent (OB-USP-Agent) gives vendors a code base that they can either integrate into their devices or use as a reference implementation. OB-USP-Agent facilitates USP deployment and enables faster time to market for USP-based technologies. Additionally, as a standards-based option, OB-USP-Agent gives service providers the confidence to carry out large-scale deployments, eliminating the risk of vendor lock-in.
By combining the best of standards-based deployments with the latest software developments, OB-USP-Agent opens up the possibilities of the connected home by providing a system which the entire broadband industry can utilize and benefit from. Furthermore, service providers will have the tools at their disposal to deliver a future-proof connected home experience that will not only enhance consumers’ day-to-day lives, but create additional revenue streams.
USP also gives providers the edge they need to compete against over-the-top services, opening the door to new use cases, such as Wi-Fi management, network security, parental control, home security, home automation and a host of other services, that can all be enabled with a system of USP agents and controllers. Service providers can also provide a better customer experience with the development of smartphone apps that act as USP controllers, allowing end users to troubleshoot their own networks to drastically reduce support calls, as well as provide a secondary channel for data collection.
Facing the future head on
Although other options exist right now for meeting the short-term needs of service providers, these technologies fall short of providing a future-proof system for realizing the promise of the connected home of tomorrow.
No matter the challenges that service providers face, such as reducing costs, improving customer support or differentiating themselves to consumers, USP was designed and developed specifically as the savior which could meet these difficult challenges and empower network service providers, application providers and consumer electronics manufacturers alike in the connected home age.
USP provides a platform for successfully mastering the connected home. In arming service providers by providing them the peace of mind to efficiently address the challenges of the future head on, they can meet the demands of the connected user today, and tomorrow.
For more information and videos about Broadband Forum’s views on the connected home and the role of USP, click here.
To get started using USP as a standardized protocol to manage, monitor, update and control connected devices, services, and home networks, visit here.
Summer means vacations and down time. People are booking hotels, arranging travel or settling in at the beach with the digital version of a summer novel. For many families, the kids are home from school and permanently wired in to an array of connected devices. So, along with the sunscreen and bug spray, you need to take precautions to ensure that you, your family and your business are cybersafe this season as well.
That’s because cybercriminals want your money, your financial information and your identity. If they can’t steal your money directly, they will steal your other information and sell it on the dark web. And they are really, really good at this. It’s why the global cost of cybercrime reached over $600 billion last year and is predicted to hit $6 trillion by 2021.
Here are seven things to remember to help keep you and your family safe while vacationing online this summer:
1. Practice safe Wi-Fi
As you travel to visit family or hit the beaches, you will want to stay connected. Which means you will be logging into public Wi-Fi access points. While many of these are perfectly safe, that’s not always the case. People looking to steal your data have a number of tricks up their sleeves. They can connect to a public access point and then broadcast themselves as that access point. Which means you connect to them and they connect you to the internet, but they can intercept all data between you and your online shopping site, bank, home security system or wherever else you browse to.
If you will be traveling internationally, you may also want to turn off Wi-Fi when entering a new country. We have seen incidents where travelers arriving at the airport connect to fake Wi-Fis and are hit with a man-in-the-middle attack. So, it’s a good practice to turn Wi-Fi off until you can verify the SSID of a legit establishment with Wi-Fi. The same goes for Bluetooth — only turn it on when you need it when traveling.
For those backyard BBQs or gatherings of the neighborhood kids for a video game marathon, set up your home Wi-Fi with a separate network for guests. They can still browse the internet while keeping them separate from your internal home network. They will also automatically reconnect to that guest portal the next time they are in the vicinity of your router.
Many smart devices also automatically search for known connection points, like your home Wi-Fi. New attacks can sense this, and simply ask your device what SSID they are looking for. When your phone tells them it is looking for your home router, it replies with, “You’re in luck! I’m your home router.” And your phone, not being nearly as smart as it thinks it is, goes ahead and connects.
The tricky part is that you can’t always tell a good access point from a bad one — which is exactly the point for cybercriminals. So there are a few things you can do. The first is simply ask an establishment for the name of their Wi-Fi SSID before you connect. You should also consider installing VPN software on your device so you can make a secure, encrypted connection to a known service. There are a number of low-cost/no-cost services that will ensure that your connections are always protected.
2. Upgrade your passwords
One of the biggest mistakes people make is using the exact same password on all their online accounts. Of course, we tend to use a lot of different websites, so remembering a unique password for each site may be impossible to keep track of.
There are two approaches. The first is to use a password vault that stores the username and password for each account, so all you have to remember is the single password for that application and it takes care of the rest. The other is to create a tier of applications and then create more complex passwords remember for each group. One set for sites like social media, another for places you pay your bills and another for your bank.
Creating strong passwords you can remember isn’t as hard as it seems. For example, use the first letters of a sentence or song lyric that you are familiar with, add some capitalization and replace some of the letters with numbers or special characters and you’ve got a pretty secure password. Just set a reminder on your calendar to change those passwords every few weeks.
Many online social sites also now support two-factor authentication. It’s an extra step in the login process as you have to enter a password and then validate that login using some other form of authentication, such as entering a code sent to your mobile device. But it significantly increases the security of your account and data.
3. Recognize scams in email and on the web
Don’t click on links in advertisements sent to your email or posted on websites unless you check them first. As tempting as it might be, never open an email or click on an attachment from someone you don’t know, especially when it includes an enticing subject line, such as a cash reward or a bill for something you didn’t purchase — no matter how much you might want to see that receipt for the diamond ring you don’t remember buying. And take a minute to look at those emails from people you know as well. Compromised accounts are regularly used to send malware to individuals in their contact list because recipients are far more likely to open those emails and attachments. So if an email message from someone you know seems strange or out of character, check with them first before you open it.
For websites, does the website look professional? Are the links accurate and fast? Are there lots of popups? Is there bad grammar, unclear descriptions or misspelled words? If you hover your mouse over a link, you should be able to see the real URL. Does it replace letters with numbers, such as amaz0n.com, or is it unusually long? If so, don’t click on it. It’s a phishing attack, and all you are going to get is a stolen identity. These are all bad signs.
4. Protect yourself from viruses and malware
Install reputable and well-reviewed antimalware software, keep it updated and run it regularly. And because no software is 100% effective, set up a schedule where you load and run a second or third security system to scan your device or network. Many options provide a free online version or let you run a free demo for a brief period of time.
For more advanced users using a laptop or desktop, also consider maintaining a clean virtual machine on your device that you can switch to for your more security-sensitive browsing or to perform online transactions where security is paramount.
5. Keep your devices updated
One of the most successful attack vectors hackers use is targeting vulnerabilities that are already well-known, but which are not being protected against. The developers of your devices, as well as the apps you run on them, all issue regular security updates designed to protect you from known threats. Download and run these updates as soon as they become available.
6. Control your social media
Many times, hackers will use information about you to make it more likely that you will click on a link. And the most common place for them to get that personal information is social media sites. The easiest way to prevent that is to simply set up strict privacy controls that only allow preselected people to see your page.
When traveling, limit your vacation messages on social sites. While it can be fun to tell everyone where you are going or what you are doing, that information also lets folks know that you are gone, which can put your home at risk of robbery.
For those with a more open social media profile, remember that cybercriminals often set up fake pages or accounts and then request that you add them as a friend. There are two quick things you can do to protect yourself from criminals using fake credentials hoping to steal data or trick you into linking to an infected site: First, always look at the homepage of the person making the request. If you don’t know them or anything on their site seems odd, dismiss their request. And second, if the person making the request is someone you know, check to see if he is already a friend of yours. If so, there’s a significant possibility that their account has been hijacked or duplicated.
7. Educate your family and friends
Be a good net neighbor and share this information with your kids, your partner, your parents and siblings, and your friends. That’s because not only do you not want bad things to happen to them, but because they are also connected to you and you trust them. So, if they get compromised, the chance that their information can be used to trick you into doing something you shouldn’t, like clicking on an link or downloading an infected file, is much higher.
We live in a digital world, and cybercrime is part of it. We lock our cars, deadbolt our doors, look both ways before crossing the street and avoid dark alleyways. We need to develop the same cautions as we navigate our digital environment. You and your kids all may be safe inside your home or hotel room, but just as with the physical world, you are never 100% safe online. Risk comes with the territory. But if we all just exercise a bit more caution, impose just a little more scrutiny on the tools and applications we use and develop just a little more online common sense, the digital world we live in would quickly become a whole lot safer.
While they’ve been around for a while now, time series databases capable of handling large-scale data in real time are rapidly becoming critical for organizations that depend on industrial IoT technologies. Beginning with use cases such as sensor data collection or the monitoring of infrastructure, TSDBs have now expanded to deliver organizational advantages across nearly any field using IIoT capabilities.
Certainly, the major cloud providers have been spurred to offer services in line with this trend, with AWS introducing Amazon Timestream and Azure now offering its Time Series Insights PaaS. The days of storing large volumes of sensor information in traditional databases not specifically intended for time series data are ending, as cloud cost-savings and technical features, like query performance and scalability, favor a transition to TSDBs.
At the same time, new tools are equipping industrial businesses with new capabilities for collecting infrastructural time series data — Prometheus is a strong example. The increase in the benefits derived from time series data will elevate this information as a competitive differentiator among IIoT-empowered enterprises, within which the advantage will go to those organizations best able to collect time series data at scale and glean the most value from that data. In this environment, industrial businesses that are simply storing and plotting data points won’t be able to keep pace with competitors equipped to more nimbly harness massive data and act upon key insights.
The coming TSDB divide
This transition toward widespread adoption will lead to a stark division in how TSDBs are put to use — and which specific TSDBs are appropriate to different use cases — with two distinct categories emerging:
1. Smaller, more traditional IoT use cases (mostly operational metrics)
The first category covers use cases considered more traditional, which utilize just tens or hundreds of metrics or IoT sensors, and require real-time write abilities but no complex queries and little in the way of special requirements for integration. These use cases will produce data volumes totaling less than a terabyte and will usually be internal IT projects that are non-mission critical in nature. Appropriate TSDBs for use cases in this category include Prometheus and InfluxDB.
2. Hyperscale IIoT application
This category includes industrial time series applications utilizing hundreds or even hundreds of thousands of IoT sensors or metrics. These applications call for deep integration between IT and operational technology, metrics logs and search functionality, and the ability to perform real-time queries even with highly concurrent load — for example, thousands of queries per second or tens of thousands of concurrent connections. Doing so makes it possible to use interactive dashboards, alerts, stream processing, machine learning and more.
In these use cases, data volumes can stretch from gigabytes up into the hundreds of terabytes and represent mission-critical systems, such as platforms offering real-time, data-driven decision-making — which can have a transformative effect on an IIoT-dependent business’ capabilities. The scale of these use cases requires enterprises to use TSDBs — open source CrateDB being one — up to the task, such as those offered by or cloud service providers or specialized DBaaS providers.
How cloud service providers and database-as-a-service providers are adapting to these shifts
DBaaS providers — especially cloud service providers — are thriving in this environment, where industrial organizations need to adopt new architectures and see the wisdom in enlisting experts to do so. In fact, AWS and Azure by themselves are responsible for two-thirds of last year’s total database market growth.
However, it’s important for industrial organizations to keep an eye on how providers’ pricing models evolve as IIoT implementations thrive and as hyperscale TSDB use cases become more prevalent. Currently, provider cost structures often assume a limited scale — for example, AWS Timestream offers $350 per month pricing, but with a limit of 100 queries on the data set per month.
For enterprises with industrial platforms that must execute thousands of queries each second, this means that costs quickly become unpredictable, a fact that market pricing will adapt to address. Additionally, watch for DBaaS providers to support enterprises in adopting hybrid cloud strategies that offer versatility and resilience while avoiding future lock-in risks. By designing database architecture to utilize any cloud, and to easily scale so that the same code is used and the same features are available for small-scale IIoT use cases as for massive IIoT-based cloud deployments, DBaaS providers can simplify decision-making and deliver functionality that empowers industrial organizations with competitive advantages.
For concerned parents who want to ensure the safety of their children, smartwatches have become a promising solution for families seeking convenience and peace of mind. But while these devices have provided much-needed peace of mind for many parents, they have also opened up a host of security concerns and new vulnerabilities. The very technology so many parents are using to protect their children is simultaneously exposing entire families to greater cybersecurity risks.
The PII problem
A report published by the Norwegian Consumer Council showed that many smartwatches marketed toward children were riddled with attack vectors and access points for hackers to uncover and retrieve personally identifiable information (PII) from families.
Although the study was meant to serve as a catalyst to force change in the IoT industry, the very same security flaws are still plaguing children’s smartwatches a year and a half later. Despite such compelling data on the unsettling amount of vulnerabilities, gaping security holes still remain. A more recent article from Schneier on Security showed that the same geolocation issues were found during a data breach from smartwatch backend company Gator. Even with stricter rules in place after the implementation of the EU’s GDPR, unencrypted data still traversed foreign servers, making it easy for third-party attackers to access.
It’s time to fix this problem. There are easy measures to take to secure families’ important data while also ensuring the safety of kids.
Solution No. 1: Tokenizing watch data
One of the main issues the study uncovered was a lack of tokens to conceal and preserve sensitive geolocation data. In addition to seeing live locations of users, third-party attackers could also access a database filled with the PII of users linked to specific locations. Email addresses, contact information and worse remained at risk.
Utilizing tokens is a simple fix, although not a thorough one. Had the location info been tokenized at the user level, geolocation data, geofencing and live data could still be at risk. However, user-centric PII would have at least been sufficiently masked, as the token would protect the identities of those using the service.
The Schneier article also showed how this data was commonly centralized through a single access point that simply required super admin access to obtain. Tokens would be even more powerful if the information was decentralized among different server locations, further concealing identities and preventing malicious actors from obtaining contextualized data.
Solution No. 2: Decryption keys
While tokens cover the transmission and storage of PII, location-based data is still available in plain view. End-to-end encryption at the source might mean parents need to take extra steps to glean crucial data, but it provides ample security.
For example, if a child were to press their SOS button to alert a family member to their location, that data could require an extra authentication step to see. In this imagined workflow, a guardian would receive an alert, type in their unique pin — or, for added safety, the key from a two-factor authentication program like Google Authenticator — to see the decrypted data.
Encrypting information at the user level would prevent third-party actors from intercepting live geolocation data and seeing geofencing barriers that families establish around their own homes. This has an added benefit of preventing unauthorized access at the hardware level — if a parent’s phone is stolen or otherwise compromised, incorporating a decryption pin would prevent further catastrophe.
Solution No. 3: The all-in-one
Of course, neither of the above solutions completely addresses the problems outlined by reports all on their own. Implementing both tokens and encryption together for a two-fold security program prevents both real-time and stored historical data from falling into the wrong hands, and could coincide with more rigorous permission-based access controls for even more secure data sharing.
A common pattern across all smartwatch carriers is that consumers are not able to decide which information the watch app could access and when it could do so. While many parents may feel justified in turning over all of their information, setting permissions could help them stay in the know about exactly what they’re turning over and when.
The most comprehensive solution would — and should — give parents complete control of exactly what data is being shared when it is shared and how it is stored.
Takeaways: It just takes one device
So, what does this mean for IoT security overall? In 2019, connected devices are only going to become smarter, broader and more proliferated. Furthermore, more consumers will turn to them for the sake of convenience and the superficial feeling of security. While that puts companies that specialize in IoT in the driver’s seat, it also means that holistic thinking about security is required to prevent products from turning into problems.
Now is the time for companies to take action and make sure they are doing all they can to protect the privacy of their users. This is not a radical assumption — in fact, regulatory laws like GDPR require it. If smartwatch companies desire to give their consumers true peace of mind about the whereabouts of their children, then transparency and security should be a top priority.
My company is currently working on a system to help organizations comply with GDPR and other privacy regulations for IoT and beyond. Make sure to sign up here to learn more about what we’re doing to make devices safer for users of all ages.
The IoT ecosystem is highly complex and although adoption rates are soaring, many organizations still struggle to build, deploy and maintain IoT systems that deliver tangible business results. In some cases, companies become excited about the potential of IoT, but do not align their projects with well-defined business outcomes, such as increased operational efficiencies or new revenue-generating service offerings. The result: stranded investments in IoT projects that did not produce bottom-line results.
To avoid wasted funds and negative sentiment around IoT within your organization, the following considerations are critical:
- What are the business objectives?
- How will we design the IoT system to meet these objectives?
- What are the global ramifications?
- How do we ensure security?
It is important to determine your business objectives at the outset and define how IoT will be used in your organization to align with these objectives. The next step is to conduct a transparent and comprehensive assessment of your organizational IoT readiness, providing the contextual information needed to generate an attainable IoT strategy. From there, you need to construct an IoT architecture that aligns with your IoT strategy, specific technology components and milestones to business objectives.
Designing your IoT architecture
IoT solution architectures are more complex than most traditional IT projects because of the many layers of complexity at the device, network connectivity and application levels, in addition to the interoperability among each. Architectures can be viewed from a logical OSI stack perspective or an architectural end-to-end perspective. Both are relevant when assessing your requirements.
From a stack perspective, an IoT solution is like a three-layer cake. At the bottom is the connectivity, for which there is a plethora of options, depending on the business use case. The next layer up is comprised of two components: device management and the management platform. The devices and endpoints connect into the network and the platform manages the devices and processes the data. The top layer includes the applications and data visualization, which deliver the insights that result in business value.
From an architectural end-to-end perspective, an IoT system begins with an endpoint device, such as a sensor, that collects data. That data is transmitted via network connectivity, such as cellular or Wi-Fi. These components are managed by a platform, or multiple platforms, that enable connectivity management, device management, application development, security and other functions. The data is then stored in either a cloud or hosted data center, where it can produce analytics or feed back-office systems.
Tackling global considerations
Global deployments bring additional complexities. Navigating IoT device certifications and sourcing connectivity options across multiple regional networks and carriers can be complicated. For example, a global system might need to work on a 2G network in Europe, a 3G network in LATAM and an LTE network in North America. If the device were transported across any one of those networks, it would need to work seamlessly without any modifications to the device itself.
It is important to understand global nuances and how they translate to costs. In the example above, your organization could deploy one — potentially expensive — device that provides seamless transition capabilities, or utilize multiple devices, each specific to a given region. In most cases, the latter option is significantly more cost-effective.
Overcoming security challenges
Securely managing IoT systems as they scale requires forethought. Common challenges include sensor failures, bot attacks and camera hacks. Enterprises that deploy IoT devices into their customers’ premises are responsible for ensuring that the device does not become a vulnerability for the end user. This end-to-end security is a key challenge for the industry overall, but especially for large-scale deployments.
Ensure security measures are included in your IoT system by performing threat modeling during design. Threat modeling begins with an architecture diagram of the system that clearly depicts how data flows throughout the application’s different elements and where attackers can break in. Then, compile a list of all threats associated with the solution, such as the aforementioned bot attacks or camera hacks. After the threats are identified, prioritize and mitigate each at the design stage, before the IoT system is introduced into the field.
It is important to build a results-oriented IoT strategy from the outset. Determine business objectives first, and then choose the right technology for the processes and goals to achieve your desired results and maximize returns on IoT investments. Your IoT strategy should be reflective of your business strategy, and each individual IoT sub-strategy should align IoT technologies to targeted business processes. A focused approach allows your organization to identify, on a global basis, where the processes operate, the back-end systems that need to be integrated and the levels of security required.