Why safety-first connectivity has become business critical for the IoT

A person touching a floating smart home icon with multiple connectivity options.
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According to IDC, the number of connected devices - or “things” - is predicted to rise to 41.6 billion by 2025, presenting huge opportunities for innovation, as well as underpinning the importance of collaboration when it comes to delivering IoT solutions. 

About the author

Tom Canning, VP of IoT at Canonical.

However, as the market grows, the competition between manufacturers to offer the best capabilities at the cheapest price increases - carrying the risk of cybersecurity being unfortunately overlooked. This creates a threat climate like never before, as these devices become an increasingly enticing target for hackers.

This is especially worrying on account of the widespread social change we have seen over the course of the pandemic, with transport networks having to adapt and the ‘new’ hybrid working model still to be fully defined. Because of this, it is vital that businesses put safety at the heart of new IoT systems, in order to mitigate cost and harness user trust amidst the evolving landscape of the ‘new normal.’

Becoming safety-first

Up until last year, the connected world was under construction using a very particular vision of the future - complete globalization, instant feedback and human-to-machine compatibility. The shifts and adjustments seen in 2020, however, have changed all of that, and we are now seeing an increased focus on physical safety and reduced movement.

Even with the progress made in vaccination programs, it is highly likely that transport will be forever changed, offices will become hybrid spaces, and logistics operations will need to abide by the strictest levels of safety protocols. The IoT market will pivot and be at the forefront of this future, working not just smarter but also more securely, to help build business and consumer confidence. Security and safety is of paramount importance to this, and the most effective IoT solutions will be that which is built safety-first.

The first step for any IoT business today, is to undergo a thorough risk assessment that examines vulnerabilities in devices and network systems, as well as user and customer backend systems. This is vital because risk must be mitigated for the entire IoT device lifecycle, not just the initial deployment. With Ubuntu Core, for example, the kernel and device drivers are packaged and installed as snaps, as are gadget-specific applications, meaning the IoT device can be easily maintained continuously and at arms length.

After this, the design of the overall solution and ecosystem components should be also assessed to ensure that safety features are embedded at every level. As the number of connected IoT devices grows, the more knowledge and information gathered, only creates additional security risks so the responsibility is on collaborative thinking to ensure important lessons and best practices are applied across similar devices and deployment scenarios.

The complexity of modern IoT ecosystems

It is important to understand that modern IoT solutions are inherently complex. Machines and objects in virtually any industry can be connected and configured to send data over cellular networks to cloud applications and backends, meaning they can exist in many forms at once. Such is the diversity of data types and computing power among IoT devices, there is no 'one size fits all' cybersecurity solution that can protect all IoT deployments.

IoT use cases can bring about new, sometimes unanticipated safety risks, because pitfalls in digital security are present at every step along the IoT journey, and there will always be hackers looking to take advantage of a system's vulnerability.

This means that safety and security should not be seen as something that can be retrospectively added on after a device or system is configured, because doing so increases the risk of a potential breach. Providers, therefore, need to ensure they are providing end-to-end protection of IoT devices and their data. This can only be achieved by putting security at the heart of the device or platform’s design.

The importance of trust

Not only can the financial risks associated with security breaches be significant, but further cost can come in the form of user trust, which in light of evolving use cases post-Covid-19, can be even more critical to businesses.

With offices changing and transport networks set to adapt in line with new commuter behaviors, IoT solutions need to be safety-first to ensure they can guarantee positive user experiences that do not provoke alarm or concern. The customer confidence that is achieved through having a secure, user-friendly IoT device enables further development and investment. As the world moves into a ‘new normal’, it is vital that trust is at the heart of this, and safety-first IoT is the most effective means of achieving this.

IoT device manufacturers of all sizes should review and commit to developing and executing a sound cybersecurity strategy for all new products. As the threat landscape becomes more complex, manufacturers should leverage trusted computing technologies to provide more agility and speed of deployment - to be safe in the knowledge that all layers of security are implemented to protect against the growing sophistication of the threats of the future.

Tom Canning

Tom Canning is VP of IoT at Canonical - the company behind Ubuntu.

He is a senior executive with experience leading organisations across EMEA, USA and APAC regions at board, investor and senior management levels to drive company success.
He has ability to build and develop high growth, results-orientated, enterprise sales teams including strategic customer acquisition, installed base renewal and growth, and leading new GTM strategies.
He is a team hiring and on-boarding in fast-paced, high-growth markets including Venture Capital/Private Equity backed US and UK based start-ups and public companies.

He has high energy leader skilled in complex CxO selling, strategic account planning and sales processes to accelerate pipeline, provide accurate forecasting and deliver predictable results.