A wave of intelligent end points promises to streamline business process, but corporations seem ill prepared to address the new IT security threat it creates.
Data center managers may be a bit leery of Internet of Things (IoT) -- 26 billion things are expected to invade their networks by the year 2020, according to market research firm Gartner Inc. While corporations see the influx's potential to improve operations, data center execs must consider IoT security, a difficult duty given the complex nature of IT systems.
The Internet of Things creates new intelligent networks connecting a variety of end point objects, or things, embedded with sensors, software and network connectivity. IoT provides an intelligent data stream between the asset and centralized management systems, generating reportable locations, status, functionality or other information for various applications. For example, data centers can create an IoT network that monitors server health in real time to prevent widespread outages.
Market analysts are quite bullish about IoT's future. In its Worldwide and Regional Internet of Things 2014-2020 Forecast, market research firm IDC predicted that the global IoT market would hit $7.1 trillion by 2020, jumping from $1.9 trillion in 2013.
The need for new IoT infrastructure
With such high growth for an emerging type of IT workload, an equally new data center infrastructure will take shape.
"The enormous number of devices, coupled with the sheer volume, velocity and structure of IoT data, creates challenges, particularly in the areas of security, data, storage management, servers and the data center network, as real-time business processes are at stake," stated Joe Skorupa, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.
The potential IT security threat from IoT is a top management concern.
"Not only is cybersecurity a focus for the IT department; it has become a top concern in the board room," said Jim Reavis, co-founder and CEO of the Cloud Security Alliance, a consortium geared to improving cloud system security.
This new type of IT workload poses various challenges. The first task is simply collecting and storing the data. The volume of data captured by IoT-connected devices will grow from 200 exabytes (1 billion gigabytes) in 2014 to more than 1,600 exabytes -- 1.6 zettabytes -- in 2020, according to technology market intelligence company ABI Research. Data center managers should consider purchasing new storage systems. Integrate storage arrays into the data center's security architectures to mitigate potential threats.
Encrypt all the things
All that data needs protection. End-to-end encryption is one step toward squashing the IoT security threat. Examine new and existing applications used by the enterprise to integrate encryption and key management functions. Deploy management tools to ensure that staff members follow acceptable usage policies.
Encryption systems chew up system resources and can slow down application performance. In addition, key management systems are often difficult to deploy and manage. To ensure system security, key management must be separated from the keys themselves, which is a complex undertaking.
The IT security threat is IT
As seen with smart metering equipment and digitized automobiles, corporations collect vast amounts of private consumer data -- raising concern among consumer advocacy groups. Corporations need to tie their authorization systems to IoT solutions, so only the right personnel access that information.
In cases such as patient or geolocation information, even data center techs should not see the data. Consequently, businesses will need to put checks in place so data center professionals can manage IoT data at a high level without the option to examine individual records.
Hackers are enthused about IoT because it offers them more ways to threaten corporate data security. For example, a hacker could break into a healthcare system and change the settings on insulin pumps. Or a terrorist could set a building on fire via its smart furnace thermostat controls.
Such scenarios may seem a bit farfetched but are quite possible. As evidence, Director of the CIA John Brennan said in speech, "As we move closer to what some are calling an Internet of Things, there will be more devices and systems to protect -- and, equally worrisome, more that can be used to launch attacks."
Standardization in the future
Businesses need to connect various IoT systems to minimize the IT security threat posed by the new technology. Standard interfaces make this task easier. Founded in 2014 by AT&T, Cisco, GE, IBM and Intel, the Industrial Internet Consortium has taken a lead role in the development of IoT standards. The group, which reports more than 200 members in 26 countries, is developing standards for specific devices, such as medical equipment and automobiles.
IoT seems poised to generate the next big wave in the data center. Businesses are moving to expand their systems to support it, but they need to ensure that proper security checks are in place. Without preparation, data center professionals may find the promise of IoT to be nothing more than another IT security threat.
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