IoT providers have hit an innovation streak in recent years, utilizing increasingly sophisticated technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and data tools like machine learning (ML) to rapidly expand the world of connected things. 5G’s rise will only compound this growth, adding crucial support for future devices. Providers must still keep watchful eyes on their 5G devices’ security measures, according to Sarah Tatsis, vice president of the Advanced Technology Development Labs business unit of software and IoT solutions provider BlackBerry.
Tatsis’ division was formed from the company’s acquisition of AI-enabled cybersecurity company Cylance and is also known as BlackBerry Labs. It explores ways to integrate AI into IoT-enabled devices and analyzes how AI and IoT might converge over the next few years — especially with 5G networks' help. All of this will be accomplished with an emphasis on security and user safety.
“The reason we’ve [created BlackBerry Labs] is, with the proliferation of IoT things, we’re also seeing a huge increase in cybercriminal activities,” she said. “We need to be able to keep up with how quickly technology like AI is being used in order to undertake these types of activities.”
Connected devices, security and the rise of 5G
Security has always been critical for IoT device creators, but focusing on it is becoming necessary now that 5G networks are cropping up in markets worldwide. They will be “key enablers” of the mobile, IoT-connected ecosystem that will spread over the next few years, Tatsis said — a sentiment she seems to share with the rest of the industry.
Conferences like the Mobile World Congress, which recently took place in Barcelona, Spain, have focused heavily on 5G and its impact on IoT technologies. The impacts of 5G on the speed and scale of data transmissions and IoT communications have been well documented, but providers will need to shift some of their focus on innovation to security for maximum growth.
“The IoT market is very fragmented, and there is a lot of innovation going on without a thought to security in [the] devices.” Tatsis said. “You can go get a lot of [IoT-enabled] now that have zero thoughts to security: [The devices] all have the same passwords, they have no idea how you secure the supply chains [or] how you secure the hardware — let alone start securing the software stack — and they’re all using different technologies. I think this is the clear challenge in terms of how the market will provide secure solutions.”
BlackBerry Labs will apply AI and ML technologies to these security issues, generating potential mobile defense solutions along with those for connected vehicles. Some estimates put the number of such cars on the roads by 2020 at 250 million, and related security questions are constantly evolving.
“[A car is] one clear example, actually, where security becomes about safety,” Tatsis noted. “If you can imagine an autonomous vehicle being hacked or a cybersecurity threat being initiated on an autonomous vehicle, now you’re talking about a projectile, [unlike] the hacking of a smartphone, for example.”
The industry is aware of these changing security needs, as 5G's rise pushes the conversation forward. This will also likely contribute to standards consolidation as the technology continues to spread. European Union member states published a joint report on 5G networks’ potential risks, specifically citing the potential risks of 5G-connected devices from “non-state actors,” or those outside the EU. Mary O’Neill, vice president of security for networked technology firm Nokia, has spoken about 5G and IoT security concerns, as has the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ajit Pai. These entities are keeping a careful watch on the network protocol's changing security and privacy needs.
“I think that as 5G becomes more of an enabler … we’ll start to see that that type of standardization will be forced,” Tatsis said. “I think we’re getting there. If we look back a couple of years, I don’t think this was on people’s radar or [it was] necessarily a key differentiator for an [IoT-enabled] device maker, but I think what we’re going to see is that this will be a must-have — not only a key differentiator, but if you don’t have it, you won’t be able to play in the IoT space.”
IoT and opportunity
Consumer and enterprise-facing IoT-enabled devices will continue to expand into new verticals in the coming years, and security innovation is a necessity for providers that want to stay in the industry. AI and 5G represent an important opportunity for IoT, but providers should also remember that there is still space for the human touch.
“IoT really comes down to connecting people … so, from our perspective, [it is about] how we keep people and data and communications safe in this really hyperconnected world?” Tatsis asked. “It comes down to humans protecting humans from humans.”
Humans use IoT-enabled devices to communicate for both legitimate and illegitimate purposes. Firms may rely on 5G networks and AI technologies to enhance these devices, but at the end of the day, human agents and developers are responsible for protecting users from human bad actors who are also using these technologies. That communication is gaining speed, and all humans involved will need to keep up.