Connected Devices connected security HVAC Internet of Things IoT security

Addressing Security Challenges in an IoT Dominated World


Adding connectivity with a degree of intelligence to household appliances gives rise to the Internet of Things (IoT). Integration of these inter-connected appliances, with our daily routine, inside our personal spaces, is resulting in smart homes, and the adoption is already exponential. Here is how we are addressing security challenges in an IoT dominated world.

Many industries are deploying the IoT concept, such as security and surveillance systems, home appliances, manufacturing, automotive, and recently we also experience numerous innovations in the HVAC industry (cielowigledotcom – HVAC tech). All players’ goal is to provide connectivity plus automation, resulting in comfort and even energy savings.

Smart homes promise an automated living experience, with in-built convenience and an efficient style of living. As per IDC projections in 2015, there will be 50 billion connected devices by 2020, with a market worth 1.7 trillion USD. This widescale acceptance of IoT is a fascinating part of the future. It bodes well for the times to come for the smart home industry. But with all good things, there is a catch. Security of data is the most significant risk to such large scale integrations. Moreover, preventing any backdoor entries into a secure home should also be an emphasis on IoT security.

Smart home devices’ mass use provides a larger pool for potential hackers and data attackers to target, resulting in a significant disruption of service, financial loss, and physical loss instead of promised convenience and energy savings.

Erosion of confidence in smart home appliances through security risks is a stark reality for the IoT industry. It would consequently lead to a slowdown in the adoption of smart home products by consumers.

IoT Vulnerabilities

Wi-Fi connected devices create a great volume of sensitive data, creating an inherent risk of data and identity theft, device manipulation, and server/network manipulation, and providing many avenues for hackers to exploit.

As per Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP), IoT vulnerabilities include inherent insecurities in the web interface, mobile interface, cloud interface, network services, and firmware. The vulnerabilities also include insufficiencies in authentication/authorization and security configuration. The lack of transport encryption, privacy concerns, and poor physical security also adds up to the list of vulnerabilities.

Limited memory and computational power of microcontrollers is another challenge that is unique to IoT. Both these components are essential to convert dumb appliances into intelligent connected devices. Implementation of security at the device level is a big problem for IoT solution providers. They have to keep in view the balance that needs to be maintained between the security and marketability of the end product.

Often, resource constraints within the design of the product do not allow sufficient computing resources, which are necessary to implement strong security. Consequently, many devices are unable to provide advanced security features. As a case example, temperature and humidity sensors cannot handle advanced encryption protocols and various security features.

Even over the air (OTA) updates are not utilized, with many IoT devices used in a “set and forget� mode. High-end manufacturers are the exception to this, though. They can provide regular FOTA updates and a robust security mechanism all the way from the cloud protocols to on-device safeguards. Other manufacturers are not so forthcoming, prioritizing low-cost development and a faster timeline for conception to sale.

Strategy to Mitigate IoT Vulnerabilities

An all-encompassing strategy is to mitigate any potential vulnerabilities from design conception to end product. Post-sale software updates are a critical part of aftersale support. Without being hampered by cost restrictions, a security-centric approach needs to be adopted. The strategy must include proven security practices, prioritization of security measures, and transparency across the whole eco-system.

Another major issue that needs to be addressed in the amalgamation of legacy assets with modern technology. The security challenges of today were not kept in mind when older generation devices were made. Outright replacing the legacy structure with new-generation devices is a very cost-prohibitive venture. This is why smart home providers are more focused on retrofitting already installed equipment with plug-and-play devices and sensors.

But the cross-link between a legacy device and smart sensor will inevitably leave a little gap in the proverbial door and can be exploited by those with malicious intent.

Time restrictions are also a cause for concern. Many smart solution providers only cater to updates for a few years, after which their after-sale support becomes only rudimentary. With devices running around for a much larger time period than support provision, this can be a security lapse. Achieving security at par with the current standards can be challenging without assistance from manufacturers.

Industry Acceptance

A major component of security protocols and networking is industry-wide acceptance through well-established standards and procedures. Although multiple independent security frameworks operate in somewhat isolated bubbles, a single, comprehensive, industry-wide standard needs the hour. Major manufacturers and service providers utilize their own internal protocols.

To develop these protocols, a large number of resources have been put in. But smaller companies are at a disadvantage. They have to resort to making do with third-party frameworks, which are often not up to the mark. Moreover, they can also be incompatible with other major players in the industry. Due to this, not only is security an issue but also inter-operability.

Putting IoT Security Strategy Vehicle into Action

The IoT solution providers have to involve security issues at all stages of the IoT cycle. Emphasis should be on cybersecurity. Security begins at the design stage with a special focus on threat modeling, secure component selection, component adaptability to future security measures, and finally, resilience testing. The FOTA functionality is a must for remote updates, failure patching, and data protection in case of security breaches.

The options of standalone operations in case of connectivity problems can also give greater confidence to users. The manufacturer must also educate the users for setting stronger user preferences through user configurations.

The users on their part can reduce the risk of security breaches by using strong passwords for device accounts and Wi-Fi networks, use of stronger encryption method when setting up Wi-Fi networks such as WPA2, disabling the remote access to IoT devices when not needed, and disabling features that are not currently in use like location information.

Privacy is an Essential Part of Security

Privacy issues have lately been at the forefront of the discussion on networking. IoT has the potential to provide unprecedented amounts of personal information. Such information may land in the hands of information abusers. OEMs would need to provide privacy policies on how they handle such data. They should also adopt best practices to avoid reputational damages and adherence to regulatory requirements.

IoT is here to stay. The sooner this realization comes in –the better it is for both the consumers and smart solution providers.

A robust framework is needed by the industry to ensure that consumer confidence in IoT is not hampered in any way. Rather, the focus should solely be on providing the utmost in convenience and comfort to the world.

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How IoT has Quietly Taken Over the Commercial HVAC Industry

smart commercial HVAC

For several years now, the internet of things (IoT) devices have been slowly working their way into homes all around the world. In most cases, this has taken the form of smart speakers, connected thermostats, and various smart plugs that turn ordinary household devices into IoT-controlled digital appliances. Here is how IoT has quietly taken over the commercial HVAV industry.

All ordinary household devices that are “smart” is a major reason why such things are so closely identified with the IoT revolution by members of the general public.

In truth, however, household IoT solutions aren’t expected to have the biggest overall impact on the way we live. Instead, IoT experts constantly point to IoT forming the core of so-called ‘smart cities’ that will allow local governments and city planners to exercise unprecedented control over the environment within them.

Connected Cities

For example, future connected cities will feature real-time traffic management systems that will be interoperable with autonomous vehicles. They will be powered by next-generation smart electrical grid systems that precisely deliver power to where it’s needed in the most efficient manner possible.

They’ll have a shared transportation infrastructure that lets citizens get around at will without having to worry about bringing a vehicle along each day. All in all, it’s a promise of an exciting future indeed.

But for all of the noise that proponents of IoT-driven smart cities have made recently, there’s still precious little evidence of the technology actually making its way into real, functioning cities.

Aside from a handful of test locations, it’s difficult to find many visible examples of large-scale IoT systems out in the wild – unless you take a look inside the mechanical rooms of most commercial buildings.

In those spaces, IoT has quietly revolutionized the way building owners heat and cool their properties. Here’s a look at how IoT has taken over the commercial HVAC industry and the benefits it has enabled.

Comfort at a Distance

Believe it or not, the rapid adoption of IoT in commercial HVAC installations happened in large part due to the efforts of companies like Nest and Ecobee on the consumer side of the market.

The fact that connected thermostats have become so common in people’s homes has led to an expectation of similar functionality in commercial installations. As a result, there was finally momentum to bring IoT technologies into the market.

And this is particularly notable due to what the IoT tech was replacing. After all, it wasn’t all that long ago that most commercial HVAC systems relied on dial-up direct access for remote control and maintenance functions.

Aside from being an outdated, inconvenient, and limited way to handle things, it also meant that most building owners still had to rely on 3rd-party vendors to manage conditions at their properties.

Needless to say, gaining direct, on-the-go control over on-site HVAC systems played a huge role in how willing commercial property owners were to spend what was necessary to upgrade to IoT-enabled systems.

Efficiency at Scale

Once they made the leap to IoT technology, they didn’t stop with remote access. In short order, HVAC installations started making use of IoT technology in other areas, too.

They started to include vibration and pressure sensors that can help detect the earliest signs of component failure. They began integrating occupancy sensors and motorized ducting controls that allow precise airflow redirection toward crowded areas and away from empty rooms.

They even began to utilize socially-driven control systems that allow occupants to have a hand in setting the temperature in the spaces they occupy.

As you might expect, the gains to the overall efficiency of operating an IoT-enabled HVAC system are significant.

By allowing the system to respond in real-time to the comfort needs of occupants, and by detecting trouble before a failure can occur, building operators spend less money on electricity and preventative maintenance and realize significant ROI on the hardware they’re putting into the building.

And they also gain some useful and significant safety benefits, as well.

In the Air

As it turns out, the ubiquity of ductwork connected to a building’s HVAC system also makes for a built-in building safety infrastructure.

To that end, many commercial HVAC systems now include IoT smoke detection sensors that can pinpoint potential fires with greater accuracy than individual open-air smoke detectors.

In some advanced installations, an array of sensors also monitors indoor air quality in real-time to make sure that the building remains safe and healthy for its occupants – and takes action to vent any particulate matter that could be problematic.

Since the monitoring and improving environmental quality is a primary goal of the smart city of tomorrow, such sensor networks are a big step forward that not many people have even noticed.

When paired with things like UV air sanitization light, volatile organic compound (VOC) detectors, and HEPA-quality filtration, today’s commercial buildings are already coming closer to providing indoor environments that will keep occupants healthy and safe to a greater degree than was ever possible before.

What’s Coming Next

Although the rapid introduction of IoT technologies into commercial HVAC systems has flown under the radar, it’s a critical step forward in the drive to build the connected smart cities of tomorrow.

And, there are even more important steps forward the industry is poised to take. One of those steps is the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) into the control hardware that manages the systems themselves.

As that happens, facilities managers and business owners will get something close to a set-it-and-forget-it management experience, which will increase efficiency and drive costs down even further.

Air Quality

And there’s more coming on the air quality front, too. Following on some large-scale studies that have found that it’s possible to detect airborne viruses in a building’s HVAC filtration systems, there’s also some movement toward developing IoT sensors that can do that job in real-time.

With the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic still ongoing and building owners coming to realize the challenges of operating facilities that might have to contend with sudden viral outbreaks, that’s no small thing.

At a higher level, of course, the deployment of such varied sensor networks in buildings has even more promise. As smart electrical grid technologies start making their debut in cities around the world, IoT enabled HVAC systems will be able to send usage feedback to generation stations to provide insight into usage patterns on a minute-to-minute basis.

And since HVAC operation accounts for around 40% of a building’s energy usage on average, that’s going to be a valuable data stream to help minimize waste (and therefore pollution) at a macro-level.

The Bottom Line

All of these advances offer just a small glimpse of IoT’s transformative power.

In only a few short years, it has revolutionized the commercial HVAC industry and is continuing to make new, previously impossible functionality available at a rapid pace. And, it’s doing so in a way that’s having a very real effect on the lives of millions of people, even if they have no idea that it’s there.

While IoT continues its march into homes around the world, the technology’s integration into commercial HVAC systems stands as a useful example of IoT in mass action for smart city proponents everywhere.

And it’s also building a technology infrastructure that will help stitch buildings together into the very kinds of connected environments that those tech evangelists foresee.

Oh, and keeping us all cool in the summer and warm in the winter’s still a pretty neat trick, too.

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