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A year in the life of IoT: From security instigator to business enabler

Rewind to roughly a year ago when the Mirai malware and associated botnet burst onto the scene with the largest distributed denial-of-service attack ever seen, hammering service providers and websites alike. It was one of those wake-up calls we all like to write about — a chill breeze that presaged the coming of an IoT winter. (Yes, that’s a Game of Thrones reference. I think it’s a fair analogy given the circumstances and the nature of the threat.)

And like most wake-up calls, we promptly hit the snooze button and went back to thinking about other priorities. Well, kind of. Over the last year, there has at least been some initial movement in making IoT a little more secure but we clearly have a long way to go. Thankfully there hasn’t been an IoT Armageddon in the year since Mirai, which is actually a pleasant surprise. But the internet of things has continued to develop in both predictable and surprising ways.

First, it’s still growing. Gartner estimated that there are around 8 billion devices in action this year, a growth of over 30% from 2016. However many there are, the amount of traffic these devices is generating is massive. While IoT devices may not yet dominate the net in terms of bandwidth (there’s a LOT of video streaming out there), the total traffic is growing so fast we’re having to get used to new terms just to measure the size.

At the same time, IoT itself is becoming more integrated into other emerging trends. Whether it’s digital twinning, feeding the voracious data appetite of AI/machine learning development or simply accelerating the event-driven agenda of digital transformation, IoT has faded as a central element of conversation. Now, IoT is discussed in terms of its supporting role in new productions. We’ve stopping talking about IoT as though it’s an emergent trend in its own right, and are starting to see it more and more as a crucial element in other trends.

While some may view this as a reflection that the whole IoT thing was really overhyped to begin with, I believe the opposite is true. The downplaying of IoT in these conversations is not a result of its diminishing importance, but rather the result of the foundational impact IoT is having. In much the same way as we no longer ponder how businesses will react to the advent of the internet itself, so the conversation has already moved past a discussion of IoT as such, and is now reorienting around the impact that IoT is having on other aspects of information technology.

Simply put, in a year’s time, IoT has become so foundational to the digital transformation of business that we assume its presence and must now begin to plan for the effect it will have on other emerging trends. The need to collect data from, and feed information to, IoT-enabled infrastructure is changing how we think about edge computing, cloud services and the way we model and manage the world around us. You would be hard pressed, even a couple of years ago, to have found many credible predictions for that level of impact.

A year after IoT became the test bed for the largest distributed denial-of-service attack ever, we are already beginning to experience the first wave of impact of this transformative trend. IoT isn’t just changing how we think about security or service delivery or the value of products, it’s starting to change the capabilities of information technology. And it’s barely even begun to arrive yet. A year from now? Who knows.

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