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Promising to transform the ways we live, work, and play, the Internet of Things (IoT) offers impressive benefits but presents significant challenges.

Near the end of the first decade of this century, the world reached an Internet milestone. The number of Internet-connected devices surpassed the number of people alive on planet Earth. At the time, seven billion devices had already been connected to the Internet, and this went completely unnoticed by most people. This moment represented an important sign of the rapid pace in which we are adopting technology and embracing Internet connectivity. Along with the explosion of mobile phones and tablets, this moment also marked the rise of what we now call the Internet of Things.

These things are devices of all types and kinds, ranging from consumer products, durable goods, cars and trucks, industrial and utility components, sensors, and other everyday objects. They can be configured to connect to each other and to the Internet itself, combining the native abilities of the devices with the enormous data analytic and cloud resources available online. New possibilities are emerging each day as new technologies make it even easier to connect more "things" to the Internet.

The scale of the growth of Internet of Things (IoT) devices is expected to be unprecedented, with some estimates topping 100 billion devices in service over the next decade. They have the potential to impact us in most every aspect of our daily lives. The potential benefits are impressive and promise to transform the way we live, work, and play - but IoT devices also present significant challenges.

To understand the opportunities and challenges associated with the Internet of Things, the Internet Society has released “The Internet of Things: An Overview - Understanding the Issues and Challenges of a More Connected World”, a whitepaper that examines many important aspects of the Internet of Things. This paper aims to serve as an informational resource about the Internet of Things and a launching off point for further discussions.

The paper begins with an overview of the technologies that enable the IoT and then explores the challenge of defining what the "Internet of Things" is. Much like the challenge with the phrase "cloud computing", different vendors and providers in the space all offer their own definitions of what the "IoT" is all about. In our paper we've examined a number of those definitions and looked at why "IoT" can mean different things to different people. We also provide an overview of the different architectural connectivity models that are emerging for IoT devices.

The largest portion of the paper presents five primary challenge areas:

  • security;
  • privacy;
  • interoperability and standards;
  • legal, regulatory, and rights; and
  • emerging economies and development.

Each issue area is highlighted overview of existing challenges and questions raised in order to advance dialog on developing solutions to current and future challenges.

As you will see in the document, we believe the security in the Internet of Things is perhaps the most most significant challenge and we believe ensuring security in IoT must be a fundamental priority. Poorly secured IoT devices and services can serve as potential entry points for cyber attack and expose user data to theft by leaving data streams inadequately protected. A proliferation of poorly secured devices also has the potential to impact the security and resilience of the Internet globally. In order for IoT to be successful, users will need to trust that devices and related data services are secure from vulnerabilities, especially as this technology become more pervasive and integrated into our daily lives.

While many unanswered questions remain, the fact is that the Internet of Things is happening NOW. More IoT devices are being put into service each day, and this paper aims to raise the level of discussion around those questions while acknowledging an evolving landscape.

The Internet Society believes it will take informed engagement, dialogue, and collaboration across a range of stakeholders to plot the most effective ways forward to maximize the benefits of the Internet of Things and meet its challenges. We believe that if we collaborate together the IoT can play a significant role in enabling the "Internet of opportunity" we all seek. It is critical that we all work together to address the challengesin order for the potential benefits for individuals, society, and the economy to be realized .

We welcome your feedback on the questions we raise in the paper and you can follow our continued coverage of the Internet of Things at:

https://www.internetsociety.org/iot

What do you think about the benefits and challenges of the IoT? What do you see as the greatest benefits? The greatest challenges? What IoT devices have you already embraced? What excites - or concerns - you most about the IoT?

Please do leave us comments here on this blog post, on social media - or join us in our Connect forums for member discussions.

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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