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US Government Accountability Office Releases New Report On The Internet of Things (IoT)

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On May 15, 2017, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report entitled “Internet of Things: Status and implications of an increasingly connected world.” In the report, the GAO provides an introduction to the Internet of Things (IoT), describes what is known about current and emerging IoT technologies, and examines the implications of their use. The report was prepared by reviewing key reports and scientific literature describing current and developing IoT technologies and their uses, concentrating on consumers, industry, and the public sector, and interviewing agency officials from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The GAO also convened a number of expert meetings during the drafting process, bringing together experts from various disciplines, including computer science, security, privacy, law, economics, physics, and product development.

Technological Advancements Leading To IoT Surge

The GAO identified four technological advancements that have contributed to the increase in IoT devices:

  • Miniaturized, inexpensive electronics. According to the GAO, the cost and size of electronics are decreasing, making it easier for the electronics to be embedded into objects and to be enabled as IoT devices. For example, the price of sensors has significantly declined over the past decade. One sensor called an accelerometer cost an average of $2 in 2006. The average price of the unit in 2015 was $.40.
  • Ubiquitous connectivity. The GAO notes that the expansion of networks and decreasing costs allow for easier connectivity, and for IoT devices to be used almost anywhere. The proliferation of Wi-Fi options and Bluetooth creates a more expansive space for IoT to operate.
  • Cloud computing. Cloud computing allows for increased computer processing. Because IoT devices create a large amount of data, they require large amounts of computing power to analyze the data. The increase and availability of cloud computing is helping IoT devices expand.
  • Data analytics. New advanced analytical tools can be used to examine large amounts of data to uncover hidden patterns and correlations. According to the GAO, advanced algorithms in computing systems can enable the automation of data analytics, and allow for valuable information to be collected by IoT devices.

Common Components Of IoT Devices

The GAO identifies three major components that make up nearly all IoT devices: (1) hardware, (2) network connectivity, and (3) software. The hardware used in IoT devices generally consists of embedded components, such as sensors, actuators, and processors. Sensors generally collect information about the IoT environment, such as temperature or changes in motion. Actuators perform physical actions, such as unlocking a door. And processors serve as the “brains” of the IoT device. The network component of an IoT device connects it to other devices and to networked computer systems. And the software in IoT devices perform a range of functions, from basic to complex. These three components are common across the IoT industry, and serve as the bedrock foundation for understanding the security challenges facing the IoT space.

Benefits and Uses

According to the GAO, the benefits and uses of IoT for consumers, industry and the public sector are widespread. From wearable IoT devices, such as fitness trackers, smart watches and smart glasses, to smart homes, buildings and vehicles, IoT is changing the landscape of consumer products and how people interact with their space. IoT is also impacting supply chain and agriculture industries, enhancing productivity and efficiency.

Potential Implications

With these benefits comes potential risk. The GAO report identifies five risk categories presented by the onset of new IoT technology: (1) information security; (2) privacy; (3) safety; (4) standards; and (5) economic issues.

  • Information security. The IoT brings the risks inherent in potentially unsecured information technology systems in homes, factories, and communities. IoT devices, networks, or the cloud servers where they store data can be compromised in a cyberattack.
  • Privacy. Smart devices that monitor public spaces may collect information about individuals without their knowledge or consent.
  • Safety. Researchers have demonstrated that IoT devices, such as connected automobiles and medical devices, can be hacked, potentially endangering the health and safety of their owners.
  • Standards. IoT devices and systems must be able to communicate easily. Technical standards to enable this communication will need to be developed and implemented effectively.
  • Economic issues. While impacts such as positive growth for industries that can use the IoT to reduce costs and provide better services is a beneficial outcome, economic disruption is also possible, such as the need for certain types of businesses and jobs that rely on individual interventions, including assembly line work or commercial vehicle deliveries.

As IoT technology increases, so too will the regulatory landscape governing its use. Although there is no single US federal agency that has overall regulatory responsibility for IoT, various agencies oversee or regulate aspects of the IoT, such as specific sectors, types of devices, or data. If you or your business is operating, or plans to operate in the IoT space, the Dentons’ global Privacy and Cybersecurity group can help you navigate this fast-paced, and shifting environment.

Dentons is the world’s largest law firm, a leader on the Acritas Global Elite Brand Index, a BTI Client Service 30 Award winner, and recognized by prominent business and legal publications for its innovations in client service, including founding Nextlaw Labs and the Nextlaw Global Referral Network. Dentons’ global Privacy and Cybersecurity Group operates at the intersection of technology and law, and was recently singled out as one of the law firms best at cybersecurity by corporate counsel, according to BTI Consulting Group.