Engineers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) are exploring how Internet of Things devices can change lives for the better.
Dr Hassan Habibi Gharakheili, a lecturer at the University’s School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications, is reportedly excited about the potential that the Internet of Things (IoT) can offer.
However, he is equally aghast at how insecure some IoT devices many people already have in their homes are.
IoT is commonly associated with smart home and building automation, wherein several devices are linked together on a common wireless network that can be controlled remotely over the internet with the use of a mobile phone or PC.
The lecturer is part of a program called Smart Campus, which is examining low-cost and accessible ways to provide information about how public and commercial spaces are being used at any given time using real-time information.
Using the UNSW campus as a testing ground, his team is looking at patterns of how people use and move through the various campus spaces.
The use of lecture theatres, for instance, reveals a typical pattern of being chock-a-block full of keen students at the start of a term and then sparsely attended by the term’s end.
The spaces could potentially be managed more proactively if there are live records that were continually updated about the numbers of people using the theatres over time
The team discovered fairly cheap, ‘beam counter’ sensors that do the job perfectly.
These were mounted on the frame of each door, which counts how many people come in versus how many go out.
Similar technology can also be used to enable users to make planning decisions. Dr Gharakheili demonstrated this by installing sensors, built by his students from scratch, near a notoriously overcrowded bus stop.
With the availability of live data on the number of people waiting for the bus, decisions on whether extra buses are needed during those peak times become much more responsive.
IoT undoubtedly makes life easier for all. However, they discovered that popular IoT devices marketed at the home consumer are insecure, which means they can be hacked easily.
The reason behind this is the manufacturer’s primary concern of putting together something fancy that comes at a low price.
Security was not much of a priority as it entails additional parts, which is costly and takes time.
Unsecured IoT devices are accessible from anywhere on the globe, according to the lecturer. Hackers can launch cyber-attacks on companies by recruiting people IoT devices leaving their owners without a clue.
These devices communicate using plain text, which is not encrypted. Aside from being used as a launchpad for a cyberattack, these devices can also give away some of the personal data used to set up those devices.
Dr Gharakheili is working on software that can be used to address these serious flaws of IoT devices. It can be introduced to the home and business network, thereby making IoT devices safe.
The first thing it does is an audit of all the IoT devices on that network, learning how many there are and which are still operational.
Unlike a laptop or smartphone, IoT devices have very distinct and unvaried ways of communicating that make them easy to identify.
They have prescribed functionalities by the manufacturer. If they are behaving differently, then something is definitely wrong.
With the use of AI and machine learning, this behaviour can be picked up which can lead to the isolation of the device that has been compromised.