A plethora of newspaper and digital articles and blogs continue to underscore one key aspect of cybersecurity: Criminals are invading our home IoT devices and spying on us, demanding ransom and destroying our privacy.
Yes, it’s true. There is indeed a significant, ongoing cyber invasion right in our very homes.
But while the potential for personal and financial damage along with journalistic drama mesmerizes us, cybersecurity has also ushered in an era of high-tech cybersecurity defenders — digital Captain Americas who rush to shield us from attack. Dozens of immense cybersecurity corporations, hundreds of medium-size solution developers, and thousands of high-tech startups have risen to the challenge and are collectively dedicating billions of dollars and millions of hours to warding off the perpetual threats.
Today, the home IoT industry — not to mention all the individual creators, implementers and users of connected devices and apps — is awash in security solutions for every type of cyber escapade. Defenders of the connected home can implement protection solutions for every gadget and service under the sun: smartphones, cameras, doorbells, sprinklers, televisions, speakers, lightbulbs, alarm clocks, thermostats, watches, health monitors, coffeemakers, voice controllers, yoga mats — you name it.
Communication service providers (a.k.a. telecoms) have gotten into the home cybersecurity act as well. Many of these have teamed up with experts to watch over our internet-connected gadgets and what we do with them, making sure that the threats don’t chase us into our abodes and infect us there.
Yes, the countless threats continue to make cyber life treacherous, but our legions of defenders are vigilantly reinforcing our digital fortifications. The battle rages on as we pour ample resources into the fray.
Here is where we aren’t getting much help: IoT- device performance. Although it grabs the headlines, cybersecurity is only one cause of poor IoT performance. There are dozens more, like weak RF signals and incompatible communication standards. Who is making sure that our smart gadgets are performing correctly and efficiently? Who notifies device vendors about problems with their hardware, software or firmware? Who informs them when a customer is fed up and hurls a faulty gadget into the smart trash bin?
We notice the effect on our IoT devices, and that’s where we tend to place the blame. But the problems can be quite complex and might not even be the fault of the devices! The reason behind the constant glitch that causes our movies to buffer, our games to lag or our videoconferences to lose sound can occur far beyond the bounds of our homes. We might have located our device in an unsuitable spot, or it might be communicating inefficiently through our home router or hub. Competing RF signals might be seeping into our home network from the neighbor, invisibly massacring YouTube sessions and music streams. Internet service might be intermittent or a defective movie server in a far-off foreign land might be suffering problems, destroying our night at the home opera.
But things are changing.
Thanks to recent advancements in artificial intelligence, device vendors can get a handle on how millions of internet users at home are enjoying (or not) their experience.
By placing AI smarts in home routers, communication service providers can watch over connected gadgets and even measure their performance moment by moment. Collecting this information — without invading privacy — they can identify trends in what devices people are buying, how often they are using them and how well the devices are living up to their promises.
The use of the data can bolster various industries. Smart cities can use the data collected from thousands of homes for real-time traffic planning. Insurance companies can ensure that our surveillance systems are actually observing our surroundings. Healthcare providers can know that our connected medical devices are properly calibrated and operating effectively. Device vendors can learn how the performance of their devices measures up with any given market and against the competition.
But what can individual home internet users do to help themselves if their CSP hasn’t yet put AI smarts into their home router? Here are a couple of helpful hints:
• If you are doing heavy activities like video streaming, get closer to your router — that way, it will be able to invest fewer resources to give you all the attention (and bandwidth) you need.
• Get a mesh network from your CSP (or buy one yourself if you are up to installing it). Besides extending Wi-Fi coverage in your home, a mesh network can offload some of the work of the main router, helping all the internet sessions in the home run smoother.
Dramatic cybersecurity incidents will continue to capture headlines, but the new AI technologies that make IoT device-performance data available are on the verge of improving the lives of millions of people.