By Carole Murphy
The proliferation of Internet of Things (IoT) devices across all industries and verticals has changed the way we collect and consume data. Even so, IoT’s myriad benefits and opportunities for innovation are dangerously offset with the heightened risk of data breach and potential loss of data privacy. The IoT devices we use transmit massive amounts of data, creating big data lakes where the data offers exciting potential for analytics and insights. But in order for organizations to derive ROI and drive innovation, IT architects and decision makers must be able to provide access to these repositories and enable data scientists and others to effectively analyze data, while also safeguarding against data loss and hacking. Organizations that invest in big data, but then lock down access due to concerns over security and privacy compliance, can’t realize the needed returns on their technology investments.
In 2017, the IoT has expanded to include a higher volume of connected devices, and consequently a higher volume of collected data. Global IoT spending is expected to reach nearly $1.4 trillion by 2021, according to a new update to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Semiannual Internet of Things Spending Guide, published in June 2017. This indicates that each year, the amount of data collected from IoT devices and networks will continue to increase. With more connected devices in homes, enterprises and cities, IoT security is an increasingly imminent concern worldwide.
IoT devices can be vulnerable to hacking. We saw this in October 2016 when portions of the internet shut down after a DDoS attack on IoT devices. During this specific attack, high-traffic sites like Netflix, Etsy, Spotify, and Twitter were shut down for significant amounts of time, ranging from two to eleven hours in some cases. Another less discussed but no less important consideration is the vulnerability of the actual data from these IoT devices, flowing into data lakes for analytics.
Data can be used to identify trends in human behavior, the environment or traffic patterns. Understanding these trends can help enterprises and other entities improve efficiency, cost effectiveness, and gain insights that help drive toward organizational and financial goals. In the wrong hands, however, this data can also be extremely sensitive. Imagine someone gaining access to all the data that connected devices collect in your home, at your office or in the city that you live. This alone data may not mean much, but combined it data can paint a comprehensive portrait of your daily life and give an attacker access to private information, patterns, and behaviors of thousands or millions of people. The breach of sensitive data in city governments and connected organizations can be invasive and dangerous.
Presently, cities aiming to become “smart” are contributing to the proliferation of IoT devices pouring big data into those data lakes. These smart city efforts include everything from connected lighting and traffic cameras, to connected buildings and parking meters—all very important innovations that should drive costs down, predict maintenance needs, and generally improve life for residents. The smart city push is all about merging the physical environment with digital. More smart cities on the map increases risk. Security often lags behind innovation and that simply isn’t an option when it comes to bringing the world’s cities into the age of IoT. Smart cities are all about improving quality of life, but with volumes of sensitive data come the need for innovative new solutions to protect data privacy and mitigate data breach risk.
As cities evolve and become smarter, the collection of relevant and useful data is growing with the hope of added benefits for city residents and planners. For instance, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory is currently testing IoT technologies in Denver to improve our energy use in the U.S., effectively reducing cost and possible emissions of harmful chemicals like CO2. Kansas City is using IoT technology to make sense of traffic patterns, improving quality of life for its residents and setting an example for countries across the world. These innovations are powered by data that researchers and city planners use to analyze trends, patterns, room for development, and improving the world around us.
In order to protect this data from cyber-attacks, cities, and enterprises, public and private sector alike, can encrypt the data collected by all of these devices. Encryption of the right sort can play a critical role in the protection of the data itself as innovative new encryption technologies can’t transform the unique data element into a surrogate value that cannot be decrypted by unauthorized users. That protection is with the data persistently, whether the data is at rest, in transit, or in use. Even if a hacker can infiltrate a system, data-centric, format-preserving encryption of the data renders it useless to the attacker—even while it maintains usability for analytics.
This benefit—delivering usability for analytics and business processes, with security built into the sensitive data elements at field level—is not possible with standard, storage-level or database-centric encryption, but is available today from the most innovative software providers. For those organizations intent on gaining insight and value from IoT analytics, it’s critical to identify data protection solutions that not only preserve the format of sensitive data, but go beyond format, to maintain context, meaning, relationships such as date ranges, character sets in multiple languages, and have the flexibility to protect a very large universe of different data types—for example, not only name, tax I.D., address, birth date, but also vehicle identification numbers, sensor data, geo-location codes, and more. With this level of data protection organizations can open up the access to the data lake for the high dollar analysts to focus on analytics and for business stake-holders to also have access to explore the data for insights in line with the speed of business.
IoT and Innovation
The innovations that we see due to the expanding IoT landscape are impressive, whether it be in smart cities or elsewhere. But until city governments and businesses get serious about protecting the data—and doing it in ways that maintain the usefulness of the data—realizing the promised value of IoT will be held back. Data-centric smart encryption solutions help ensure IoT data is continuously used to improve quality of life and for the citizens of smart cities and the public servants who support them.
Carole Murphy is the global product marketing manager at Micro Focus Data Security.