Internet of Things (IoT) and Dangers in Cyberspace

By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army


Much has been said in recent years about Internet of Things (IoT); it is coming, it has arrived or it is growing rapidly. But the enormity of IoT can be gauged from the one forecast that by 2030 there will be over 26 billion connected devices that would average to about six connected devices per each person on this planet. This estimate may be exaggerated considering another estimates put this figure at 50 million plus by 2020. Of the total Indian population of 1.32 billion plus, 34.8% have internet connections already - total internet users being 462,124,989. In 2015, number of internet users in India was 354,114,747; implying that 108,010,242 internet users have already been added during 2016.

In June 2016, India had surpassed the US in terms of the number of internet users and was trailing only behind China, according to the annual Internet Trends Report by Mary Mecker of investment firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which also states that India is growing at 43% every year when it comes to internet usage as against a flat growth seen across the world. This report pegs the total number of global users at three billion which is growing at 9% annually, slower than what it was in the past few years. As per 2015 data, 94% users access the Internet through their mobile phones in Urban India. 77% of urban non-working women who access the internet also do so from their mobiles. This is due to advent of low-cost smartphones and reasonable tariffs, empowering consumers in hinterland also to use data connectivity.

IoT networks the physical objects like devices and items embedded systems with electronics, software, sensors, enabling objects to exchange data with manufacturer, operator, other devices through network infrastructure, allowing objects to be controlled remotely across existing network infrastructure, creating opportunities for more direct integration of the physical world into computer-based systems, resulting in improved efficiency, accuracy and economic benefit. Applications of IoT can be infinite to include media, environmental monitoring, infrastructure management, manufacturing, energy management, waste management, safety management, medical and health care systems, building and home automation and transportation; encompassing technologies like smart grids, smart homes, intelligent transportation, smart cities etc. IoT can help computer manage and inventory objects and people, transforming daily lives. Advances in technology may see WiFi being replaced by LiFi (Light Fidelity), advantage of LiFi being its lightening speed; smartphones could be connected to internet with a lamp giving 100 times faster access than WiFi. This was successfully demonstrated at the Mobile World Congress held from 22-25 February 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. With analysts predicting the number of objects that are connected to the Internet soaring at enormous pace and the spectrum for radio waves used by Wi-Fi in short supply, Li-Fi does offers a viable alternative.

Sure we can have bottom up convergence of data from IoT into applications, web-of-things providing civic engagement and data-driven decision making. However, question of security remains not only in terms of spying on people in their own homes but also cyber attacks in the physical world. That is why it is said that if one thing can prevent the Internet of things from transforming the way we live and work, it will be a breakdown in security. The next step in IoT is the advent of IoT ‘Services’. For example, Icontrol Networks Inc, founded in 2004, helps set up smart homes for clients.

So it is not getting appliances and then connecting them to internet but making available a complete home-automation system. Similarly, the company SolarCity relies on making their assets smart and connected by knowing how much electricity a home’s solar panels are producing, compared to its earlier business model of selling electricity directly to homeowners. Now fears have emerged that hackers could hijack entire smart home systems, vehicles, industrial controls and the like. But these are apprehensions people will perhaps have to live with while enjoying the fruits of IoT.