Posts tagged internet of things

A woman points to icons that represent IoT.

A Crash Course on the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a concept in the computing world which defines the notion that ordinary physical objects can be connected to the Internet, and can have the capability of identifying themselves to other connected devices. This is extremely important, because any object which can digitally identify itself to others becomes something much greater than it would be on its own.

Whatever the object is, it no longer relates just to its owner but can be corrected to an endless number of other machines.

If this description sounds a little nebulous, it’s understandable, since it’s a somewhat difficult concept to grasp. The digital innovation expert who coined the term IoT, Kevin Ashton, put it this way, “If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things – using data they gathered without any help from us – we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss, and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing, or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best.”

What Can IoT Do?

There’s a subtle capability included within this quote which you may have missed, but which is the central concept behind Version II of the Internet itself. The original Internet was entirely comprised of data created by humans, but in its second incarnation, the Internet will also include vast amounts of data generated entirely by objects, without human intervention.

Another important point made in the quote by Mr. Ashton is that some of the data generated by objects relate to performance and everyday operating conditions, and back-end software can evaluate this data. When such data is analyzed and compared against other data, it can provide extremely useful information about the status and performance of the object sending the data. That’s how we know if a device is not operating correctly and can make necessary replacements as soon as possible. However, this capability is only one of the many uses advantages which will result from objects connected to the Internet of Things.

Smart Homes

One of the ways that the Internet of Things will change life in our everyday world will be through the greater adoption of smart technology in the home setting. Although there have already been several ways that IoT technology has improved life, even more, are just around the corner. Today you may have your coffee pot, your thermostat, and your Amazon Echo connected to the IoT, but even more innovative ideas like this are currently being tested and readied for production. Expect to see IoT versions of washers, dryers, refrigerators, security systems, and lighting systems very soon.

A self-driving car powered by IoT.

It’s predicted that IoT will eventually result in self-driving cars, and other exciting automated innovations.

Wearable Devices

Last year, approximately 85 million wearables were sold in this country, and within two or three years, that figure is expected to exceed 400 million. In the broad category of wearables are included fitness trackers, virtual-reality headsets, smart watches, and other devices. All of these wearable devices are generating literally tons of data, for which practical uses have not even been defined yet. To be sure, there are endless possibilities and potential applications for this data, and when some of these are put into practice, the Internet of Things will become a far busier place.

Smart Cars

One of the most tantalizing uses of IoT technology is in smart cars, which are now very close to becoming a reality. In a few years, more than 80% of all vehicles on the road will be connected to the Internet. This will increase the potential for navigational guidance, diagnostic tools, and most exciting of all, self-driving cars.

The automobile industry has made major investments in exploring the potential for IoT technology relative, and as a result, self-driving cars are a virtual certainty in the near future. Many such cars have already been built and tested, and have performed admirably under controlled conditions – which means general rollout won’t be far off.

Business Applications

The Internet of Things will affect more than just individuals and will change the way we do business. For instance, physical inventories will no longer have to be conducted by employees spending their entire weekend in the warehouse, because smart devices will be able to track inventory automatically.

Inventors and creators of appliances and other gadgets will be free to get creative in developing new devices which can provide consumer benefits by being connected to the IoT.

The number of employees working remotely or from home will increase dramatically in the future, as more devices are connected to the IoT, permitting closer integration with work facilities.
Businesses will closely analyze all that data which is being generated by objects connected to the Internet of Things, and a great deal will be learned about where they should put their focus regarding where to innovate, what to innovate, and how to innovate.

 

 

 

An billboard against a blue sky with clouds that says, "Internet Neutrality: Straight Ahead," the opposite of what will happen if practices like zero-rating become a widespread standard.

Zero-Rating: Net Neutrality and What You Can Do to Protect It

An billboard against a blue sky with clouds that says, "Internet Neutrality: Straight Ahead," the opposite of what will happen if practices like zero-rating become a widespread standard.

Zero-rating is a sneaky way that ISPs try to control the way we consume data on the web.

 

At the end of the day, the Internet is just a network of tubes.  So who’s to say which tubes cost money to use and which don’t? Without net neutrality, Internet service providers and other companies can use strategies like zero-rating to forever change the way we browse the web. In a world where most television networks are controlled by a few major companies, the Internet is really one of last level playing fields out there.

What Is Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality is the concept that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. That means that ISPs (Internet Service Providers) do not have the right to block, slow down, or use paid prioritization to favor one website over another.

Essentially, a world without net neutrality is a world of censored knowledge. An open internet benefits everyone. Medical professionals in developing areas can search for critical information to treat patients.  Small family-owned businesses have the opportunity to expand into multi-national companies, servicing millions. People around the globe deserve an equal chance at success.

The Internet is and should always be an open forum for the free exchange of ideas.  In fact, the UN recently deemed Internet access a human right. In the digital age, it is important to discuss and determine the ethicality of Internet usage control.

Zero-rating

One sneaky way that ISPs are controlling the way we use the internet is through zero-rating.  When you use data to browse websites on your smartphone, your service provider keeps track of your data usage.  To prevent users from maxing out their data caps on the first day, say by watching two hours of YouTube on their daily commute, they zero-rate some sites.

With zero-rating, certain sites or apps don’t count towards the total amount of data you’ve used.  For example, a video streaming company can pay your service provider in advance to join this “zero-rating club.” This makes their services more appealing than another streaming site that fills your data cap more quickly.

If you think about it, there is no need for data caps or zero-rating.  If networks already have enough bandwidth to unlimited data to zero-rating sites, then there is enough for everyone.  On top of being highly illogical, this practice is violating net neutrality.  The Netherlands, Slovenia, and Chile have already banned this practice, but the FCC remains silent on zero-rating regulation.

A World Without Net Neutrality

If ISPs continue to offer preferential treatment, strong service companies will become even more powerful.  Not only that, ISPs will dictate how you surf the Internet in your free time.  Right now, the web is composed of mostly streaming sites, blogs, games, social media, and email services.

Service providers will want to control which sites cost more to visit, and will also want additional fees from every website to show their content to customers. They can also choose to block certain sites and make visiting certain sites more expensive than others.

For those who argue that abolishing net neutrality can increase service provider competition, a free and open internet also stimulates ISP competition.  It also is the backbone of entrepreneurship in the digital age.  It promotes freedom of speech innovation.  Lack of net neutrality can lead to monopolies, which are already a big issue in free market economics.

What Can You Do About It?

To speak to your local legislators about this issue, or to contact members of the FCC like Chairman Ajit Pai, Mignon Clyburn, and Michael O’Reilly, here are some tips:

The first and easiest way to contact them is via email. Their email addresses are located on their website. You can also call them.  Legislators take their call appointments seriously.  If you are interested in tech and have educated opinions to provide on the issue, they are eager to listen.  Since they themselves are not tech experts, they want to be as informed as possible when creating tech policies.

If you are a DC local, you can choose to speak with them in person. If you are not, you can even make appointments to video chat with FCC commissioners or local legislators.

The Internet is a utility, not a commodity. Under the Obama administration, it was deemed a telecommunications service, meaning that it receives the same treatment as water, gas, and electricity services.  However, under the Trump administration, these rules are projected to reverse.  If you are a net neutrality supporter, it is your job to voice your opinion.

If you would like to receive more news on the latest in cyber security, Internet happenings, and general technology buzz, stayed tuned on our Geek-Aid blog.

Internet of Things banner with icons.

Protecting the Internet of Things

Internet of Things banner with icons.

Can the government protect Internet of Things devices?

Forbes describes the Internet of Things (IoT) as “the concept of basically connecting any device with an on and off switch to the Internet (and/or to each other). This includes everything from cell phones, coffee makers, washing machines, headphones, lamps, wearable devices and almost anything else you can think of. This also applies to components of machines, for example, a jet engine of an airplane or the drill of an oil rig.”

This concept plays a big part in the future of technology and the devices we use. The biggest concern surrounding the topic of the IoT is security. How do we protect these internet-connected devices from threats and hackers? As the components of important machines are left vulnerable, this issue becomes more and more prevalent.

Now, the government is getting involved. A new Senate bill seeks to improve the security of government devices. Many IoT devices, like cameras, computers, and more are vulnerable to attack. Recent attacks have even allowed hackers access to popular services. As more IoT devices are attacked, the government wants to make sure that they meet basic standards of security.

Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act

Several senators, including Mark Warner, Cory Gardner, Ron Wyden, and Steve Daines, introduced the Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act. The new IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act wants to add better security to devices purchased by the U.S. government. It mandates that devices support patches and password changes, which would help decrease their vulnerability. The senators also want government devices free of known exploits. These standards allow government officials to keep their devices updated and prevent future attacks.

“While I’m tremendously excited about the innovation and productivity that Internet-of-Things devices will unleash, I have long been concerned that too many Internet-connected devices are being sold without appropriate safeguards and protections in place,” said Sen. Warner. “This legislation would establish thorough, yet flexible, guidelines for Federal Government procurements of connected devices. My hope is that this legislation will remedy the obvious market failure that has occurred and encourage device manufacturers to compete on the security of their products.”

What This Bill Could Mean for IoT Devices

Updating the security of these devices could mean a lot for the safety of government information and services. Sen. Gardner notes that “The Internet of Things (IoT) landscape continues to expand, with most experts expecting tens of billions of devices operating on our networks within the next several years.” The more IoT devices that we have available, the more opportunities hackers have to access or interfere with valuable information and services.

Hopefully, the bill will affect all IoT devices, not just the ones used by the government. Manufacturers could raise the standards of their security overall to gain government contracts. If it is passed, only researchers, who are meant to test security exploits, will be exempt from purchasing devices that don’t meet the new standards of security. If you wish to learn more about the Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act, you can find out here.

An open laptop that is blocking ads, which represents Google Chrome and it's new update.

Google Chrome Says ‘No’ to Annoying Ads

An open laptop that is blocking ads, which represents Google Chrome and it's new update.

Google Chrome may block disruptive ads next year.

Google Chrome is arguably one of the most popular web browsers available. Starting next year, the web browser will make a step towards improving the user experience. With new ad-filtering technology, Chrome users are protecting from spamming ads, pop-ups, and auto-playing ads. These types of online advertisements are often intrusive to the user.

“The reality is, it’s far too common that people encounter annoying, intrusive ads on the web — like the kind that blare music unexpectedly or force you to wait 10 seconds before you can see the content on the page,” Google SVP of ads and commerce Sridhar Ramaswamy says. “These frustrating experiences can lead some people to block all ads — taking a big toll on the content creators, journalists, web developers and videographers who depend on ads to fund their content creation.”

The Coalition for Better Ads

The Coalition for Better Ads is a group of international trade associations and companies involved in online media. The group’s hope is to provide a balance between the ads online and a better user experience. The Coalition understands that ads can be disruptive to the user experience. They even go so far as to list several types of ads on desktop and mobile devices that users find annoying. These ads include the following:

Desktop

  • Pop-Up Ads
  • Auto-Playing Video Ads With Sound
  • Prestitial Ads With Countdown
  • Large Sticky Ads

Mobile Web Experiences

  • Pop-Up Ads
  • Prestitial Ads
  • Ad Density Higher Than 30 Percent
  • Flashing Animated Ads
  • Auto-Playing Video Ads With Sound
  • Postitial Ads With Countdown
  • Full-Screen Scroll Over Ads
  • Large Sticky Ads

The Coalition is made up of 27 members, including Google. The group discovered which ads were the most disruptive by polling more than 25,000 consumers. Chrome’s update next year could be a response to meeting the Better Ads Standards that the group set.

Building a Better User Experience Through Chrome

Many believed that Google would create an ad-filtering version of Chrome. Through most of their policies, Google always strives to put the user experience over everything else. As the update goes into effect, the Ad Experience Report may change as well. By using this tool created by Google, publishers can see if their ads are violating the Better Ads Standards.

What’s interesting is that Google itself makes a generous amount of revenue from advertisements – to be exact, they make $20 billion almost every quarter. Time will tell how the new update will affect their income.

Google also wants to make sure that the companies producing the ads aren’t put at a disadvantage. The search engine giant is rolling a tool called Funding Choices, which is now in beta. It allows advertisers to send a message to visitors using an ad blocker. The message either invites users to enable ads on their site or pay to remove ads altogether. This allows publishers to continue gaining revenue despite the loss in ads.

Looking towards the future, Ramaswamy states that “We believe these changes will ensure all content creators, big and small, can continue to have a sustainable way to fund their work with online advertising.”

An image of earth surrounded by network signals, representing the internet. Some people are for and against net neutrality on the web.

Why People Are for and Against Net Neutrality

An image of earth surrounded by network signals, representing the internet. Some people are for and against net neutrality on the web.

Some people want open access to the internet, while others are against net neutrality.

Last week we discussed the troubled history of net neutrality. For years, the government has debated whether its guiding principles should be put into place. However, why is there such contention? Why are lawmakers so divided on this issue? Here are the reasons why people are for and against net neutrality.

The Champions of Net Neutrality

There are a lot of motives to back the net neutrality. It’s equal internet access for all. This idea is built around the notion that the internet is a necessary tool for everyone. People need it to communicate and send information in the modern age. The laws created in 2015 are meant to protect the concept.

The biggest reason people fight for it is because they are afraid of what kind of world an unregulated internet leaves. Without regulations, companies are able to selectively put people in what is called the “Fast Lane.” Essentially, those who can pay more receive better service. Those who don’t can potentially have their access or services slow down.

Some even fear that websites and services may be slowed down by internet service providers (ISP’s) based on another companies’ interest. That is why big name companies like Amazon and Microsoft are in favor of net neutrality and its regulations.

The Opposition Against Net Neutrality

Why would anyone be against net neutrality? Well, there are always two sides to any story. And if you are going to argue for one, it is imperative to know the other. There are big names on the opposition of net neutrality as well. That includes AT&T and Comcast, the very companies that provide internet access.

They argue that not all internet traffic is equal, and some need to be prioritized over others. Some content, like a video, takes up a lot of bandwidth. Some expert computer scientists, like Harsha Madhyastha, argue that slightly slowing down other data might be necessary to allow content like video to play at an optimal level.

Net neutrality could also threaten the idea of competition. ISP’s believe that some content providers who use a lot of bandwidth should pay for a “fast lane.” That way, customers can choose which service they wish to get their access to the internet from, especially if the content they want is more accessible there.

As the trump administration forms within the government, we will begin to see what shape the internet will take. Until then, what side are you on?

A world map, representing the internet, which is something net neutrality wishes to protect.

The Troubled History of Net Neutrality

A world map, representing the internet, which is something net neutrality wishes to protect.

Till this day, the government still debates the value of net neutrality.

Net neutrality has been and continues to be a hot-button issue. As Google defines it, net neutrality is “The principle that internet service should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.” Find out what this issue is about and how the government of the United States has handled it.

A Brief History

Back in 2003, media law professor Tim Wu coined the infamous term and reinvigorated the idea that access to the internet should be the same for everyone. It’s the idea that no one (user, website, business, application company, etc.) should be discriminately given poor internet service or charged differently than others.

During the Obama’s presidency, his administration was largely in favor of the principle, putting into place rules to protect it.  In 2015, the U.S. Federal Communication Commission (FCC) reclassified the internet as a telecommunications service. This essentially treats the internet in a similar way to electricity, gas, and water. The law instills the following rules:

  • Companies cannot prioritize one piece of content over the other.
  • Broadband providers cannot block lawful content.
  • Providers cannot slow down or throttle certain content or services.

The State of Net Neutrality

With the election of President Donald Trump, the state of net neutrality is in question. His administration seeks to reverse the rules put into place in 2015.

Former Verizon lawyer, Ajit Pai, is now the chairman in charge of the FCC. He started out in the FCC as a commissioner and during his time has been an opponent of net neutrality. His new position might put him one step further towards achieving the Trump administration’s goal.

For more than a decade, several groups have debated for and against net neutrality. Check back with us next week as we list why people are for and against net neutrality.

A close-up image of a web address on a computer screen. A denial-of-service attack can prevent access to a website like this one.

What Is a Denial-of-Service Attack?

A close-up image of a web address on a computer screen. A denial-of-service attack can prevent access to a website like this one.

A major denial-of-service attack halts the internet.

Recently, most of the internet was subject to a denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. This attack effectively prevented access to more than 1,000 popular websites, like Twitter, Spotify, and Reddit. Ultimately causing people on the internet to collectively lose their minds. While we have discussed DDoS attacks before, it is time to define what it does and how it prevents you from accessing your favorite sites.

Denial-of-Service Attack

A denial-of-service attack is a cyber-attack. It is willfully done by an external force, looking to impede a user’s access to a website. By targeting Domain Name Servers (DNS), they were able to interrupt a user’s connection to a website. A DNS server is important when it comes to accessing the internet. It basically takes your web browser’s request to go to a certain webpage and fulfills it by making sure it goes to the right place.

In the case of the DDoS attack that recently occurred last month on October 21st, major DNS host, Dyn, was the one affected. An open source malware called the “Mirai botnet” infected IoT devices, which launched 10’s of millions of IP address at the DNS servers. A large amount of request from internet users, occurring simultaneously, can overload DNS system and prevent many from having their request to visit a website fulfilled.

How to Prevent a DDoS Attack

There is not much that a user can do to prevent a DDoS attack from happening. It is up to manufacturers to build more secure devices, especially when they connect to the internet. Dyn discovered that some of the infected devices came from Hangzhou Xiongmai, a Chinese manufacturer of computer parts.

Currently, the devices that caused the attack are being recalled and patched with security updates. The devices did not force users to change their passwords, leaving them susceptible to an infiltration. Unfortunately, many devices might carry the same security flaw as the ones made by Hangzhou Xiongmai. Unless manufacturer can provide better cybersecurity measures, more attacks like this can happen in the future.

Looking Ahead to 5G Mobile Service

Standardization of mobile Internet service is an important part of the development of the 5G mobile Internet framework. For example, the industry is focusing on goals such as significant improvements in speed during peak data times, as well as resolving latency issues. But these are not the only factors that mobile engineers need to think about.

The complication for 5G is the diversity of mobile needs. Every industry from transportation to health to automotive use mobile Internet. That’s why 5G has taken so long to develop. As the “Internet of Things” continues to expand, we need more cloud storage and more virtualization than ever before. These are the types of technology that provide adaptability. 5G engineers are challenged with bringing it all together, and integrating everything the Internet can do for us.

5G is about so much more than just making a video load faster on your iPhone. The whole architecture is new. In fact, 5G requires short-range frequencies which means more cell sites. But don’t think that pushes things too far into the future. At least eight companies are already testing out 5G services, including Verizon and AT&T.

What Does 5G Mean for the Future of Wi-Fi?

Don’t worry about Wi-Fi losing its significance. As both mediums of wireless Internet progress, they will continue to coexist. 5G is a vital stage in the evolution of wireless because the way we use the Internet has outgrown the limitations of the network that has been in place for the past decade. 5G needs to be a more scalable solution rather than the next patch that ekes a little more speed out of the old architecture.

In the meantime, you can expect the US to see how the 5G rollout goes in other countries, so some of the bugs will get worked out before we see it here. While that may delay the future of mobile for a brief time, we hope it translates into the exciting new service we have all been wishing for each time the infrastructure upgrades. Asia will be taking the reins, with South Korea hoping to have their 5G network in place in time for their hosting of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

This Is Why People Adblock

Marketers and the companies they advertise for hate the whole idea of Adblockers, and understandably so. Of course, it is easy to see the other side of the argument, especially with the advent of maladvertising. What is maladvertising? How does adblock protect you? What does adblock mean for the future of free content?

What Does Maladvertising Do?

Criminals can cause problems through digital ads a number of different ways. Here’s a familiar scenario.

The ad itself may serve as a booby trap that goes off when the video plays (and many autoplay). How does it get onto your screen while you may be using a legit site?

Here it comes back to the ad network either being shady or just not catching the hack. Unfortunately, that ad network may run ads on many sites, and most of those ads may be legit, resulting in the ad networking displaying ads on all sorts of reputable sites.

Occasionally, the malicious ad plays—and users pay the price.

What Is Adblock?

Adblock basically stops all ads across the board from running. You don’t see the malicious ads because you don’t see any ads. So why doesn’t everyone just use adblock? While adblockers are usually free, there’s a hidden cost associated with using them.

Adblock and the Future of Free Content

The problem with blocking all ads is that many of those ads are responsible for the existence of sites that provide tons of free content to users. Their primary source of income is those ads. When the ads are blocked, the site doesn’t get paid by sponsors. So ultimately, adblock could eventually mean the end of all free content.

Now we need to find a happy medium. Ad networks are really in the hot seat since they act as the go-between for the user and the ads that are either legit or malicious. Sites need to be as picky as possible with their ad networks, but the ad networks need to be even pickier with which ads they decide to run.

In the meantime, it is up to the users to determine whether to adblock or to risk their own security in order to support sites that offer free content.

Meet Facebook’s Digital Assistant: M

Apple and Microsoft will soon no longer be the only games in town when it comes to digital assistants. If you like Siri or Cortana, but don’t want to be tied to a particular OS, then M may be the solution and future of personal digital assistant apps. Facebook has decided to include the AI service as a part of the Facebook Messenger app. But don’t just expect another digital assistant who provides reminder notices and makes quips when you ask what is zero divided by zero. Facebook may not get there first, but they know how to improve on an existing product (just ask Myspace).

M will actually be able to accomplish more than other AI predecessors. For example, you will be able to ask M to make reservations at a restaurant, set up your travel arrangements, make appointments, and even purchase items. M isn’t just here to answer questions with a search query. This digital assistant is intended to take care of many of the things you would expect a human personal assistant to do for you.

When can you expect to start using M? Based on what we have seen so far, there could be a long wait ahead. David Marcus, the VP of messaging products at Facebook, says that they are still early in the project. It won’t be ready to release until all the bugs are worked out. Don’t forget that Facebook has over a billion users. That means that this project needs to be ready for release on an incredible scale before it can go live.

In the meantime, Facebook is bigger than ever. The CEO recently announced that a new milestone was reached for the company – one billion same-day users. That means that on Monday, August 24th, about one out of every seven people on the planet logged into their Facebook account at some point. That’s a true testament to how important staying connected is to the human race albeit one with the help of a personal digital assistant app.

 

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