By Larry Velez, co-founder and CTO
There is a subtle but profound paradigm shift occurring in technology. Cloud-connected hardware is becoming the preferred standard, replacing self-contained hardware. It’s the Internet of Things and it’s happening in just about every industry across consumer and enterprise solutions. Whether it’s firewalls or smart Wi-Fi, thermostats or automobiles, hardware manufacturers are connecting these devices to the Internet because of the convenience and added control it offers.
Cloud-connected hardware, such as the Meraki firewall we use for our customers, brings mobility and can save organizations the costs associated with managing or configuring hardware. Another example, fairly new to the consumer market, is smart Wi-Fi. Traditional Wi-Fi routers were self contained with setup and configuration done manually by connecting to the device. This new generation of routers are controlled by cloud software with an interface that’s easy for people to manage unlike self-contained routers which are designed for IT people. The software updates automatically to better protect against data security breaches and can act as a website filter providing parental controls at the network level similar to some enterprise router solutions. An added benefit is that groups of cloud-enabled devices are often designed to "talk to each other" so you can configure them from the same interface.
Although, we are a long way from one app that interfaces with all the smart home devices we need to manage an entire home, as the technology evolves they will likely be be grouped by ecosystems, such as security, online shopping and entertainment, so we will need fewer and fewer apps to manage our lives. Over the next year or two, the competition will continue to heat up between companies like Google, Apple and Amazon to be the preferred ecosystem for the Internet of Things experience.
We are still in the early days of the Internet of Things, and there are valid concerns about bringing the cloud to so many devices without an accepted data security standard. Although this increased connectivity can have positives, it also means a convenience-risk balancing act.
For instance, in October, Dyn, a company providing critical Internet services was breached and many Internet of Things devices were hijacked bringing down large swaths of the Internet itself, including Netflix and Twitter.
In a recent NPR report, security technologist Bruce Schneier talks about how vulnerable the Internet of Things is because there is currently no government regulation around these devices, and he fears it will take a disaster for that to change. “Right now, unfortunately, these devices are being sold by the millions, they're not secure, and bad things are going to happen," he says.
Those risks have not seemed to affect sales of the hottest gifts this season, Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa, both cloud-connected devices. While consumers are always quicker to lean toward convenience, when companies run the numbers on the convenience-risk balancing act, it seems like convenience is beginning to win out over fear of data security for them. (Connected companies, like Dropbox and Google, are doing a really good job of assuaging people's fear about the risk).
In spite of the “Wild-Wild West” stage of this emerging technology, Schneier is optimistic about the Internet of things: "The Internet of things has enormous promise. The Internet thermostat I bought gives me great control over my heat and air conditioning when I am away from home, and I save a lot of energy. It's good for the world. It's good for the environment… We make our trade-offs, and we take our chances. These things are important, but by and large we're talking about the edges of what are really interesting and exciting technological devices."