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The world has gone digital. Cell phones are commonplace, tablets have replaced spiral notebooks in schools and companies are developing next-gen tech like driverless cars.

It seems everything is connected, especially for businesses. From automated security systems to laptops, the number of devices that are online and working together is only growing. By 2020, about 20.4 billion devices will be connected, according to a forecast from Gartner. There's a term for this kind of connectivity. It's called IoT, or "Internet of Things."

Once only used in IT circles, "IoT" is now slipping into mainstream conversations. However, not everyone understands what IoT really means or why it's so important for businesses and consumers. We'll break down the tech lingo and explain what you need to know.

What Is IoT?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a collection of devices that are connected to the Internet. You're probably thinking about things like a laptop or a smart TV, but IoT encompasses more than that. Think of electronics that haven’t historically been online, like copy machines, refrigerators at home or the coffee pot in the breakroom. The Internet of Things refers to all devices, even those out-of-the-ordinary devices, that can connect to the Internet. Almost anything with an on/off switch these days can potentially connect to the Internet, making it part of the IoT.

Why Is Everyone Talking About the IoT Now?

The IoT is a hot topic because we're just realizing how many things can be connected and how it can impact businesses. A combination of things makes the IoT ripe for discussion, including:

  • More affordable ways to build tech-savvy devices
  • A growing number of products are Wi-Fi compatible
  • The sharp increase of smartphone use
  • The ability to turn smartphones into controllers for other devices

For all of these reasons, IoT isn't just IT jargon anymore. It's a term every business owner should know.

What Are Common IoT Applications in the Workplace?

Studies show IoT devices can improve business operations. Research suggests employee productivity, remote monitoring and streamlined processes are among the top IoT benefits for companies, according to Gartner.

But, what does IoT look like inside a company? Every business is different, but here are a few examples of IoT connectivity at work:

  • Smart locks allow a business executive to unlock a door from his or her smartphone, giving a vendor access on a Saturday.
  • Smart-controlled thermostats and lights turn on and off to save money on energy costs.
  • Voice assistants like Siri or Alexa open apps that let you do things like take notes, set reminders, access your calendar or send emails.
  • Connected sensors inside printers detect low ink levels and automatically place an order for more.
  • CCTV cameras that let you stream content over the Internet.

What Should You Know About IoT Security?

Connected devices can give your business a real boost, but anything that's connected to the Internet can be vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Research shows 55 percent of IT professionals list IoT security as their top priority, according to a survey conducted by 451 Research. From corporate servers to cloud storage, cybercriminals can find a way to exploit information at many points within an IoT ecosystem. That doesn't mean you should ditch your work tablet for pen and paper. It just means you have to take IoT security seriously. Here are a few IoT security tips:

  • Keep tabs on mobile devices

    Make sure mobile devices like tablets are checked in and locked up at the end of every business day. If tablets go missing, data and information can be accessed and compromised. Make sure to use a strong access password or biometric, so that no one can get into a lost or stolen device. Use a security product that lets you restrict apps that will run on the device, segregate business and personal data and wipe business data if a device is stolen.
  • Implement automatic antivirus updates

    You need software on all devices to protect against viruses that give hackers access to your system and data. Set up automatic antivirus updates to protect devices from a cyberattack.
  • Require strong login credentials

    A lot of people use the same login and password for every device they use. While it's easier for people to remember, it's also easier for cybercriminals to hack. Make sure every login is unique for every employee, and require strong passwords. Always change the default password on new devices. Never re-use the same password across devices.
  • Deploy end-to-end encryption

    Connected devices talk to one another, and when they do, data transfers from one point to another. You need to encrypt data at every intersection. In other words, you need end-to-end encryption to protect information as it travels from point to point.
  • Make sure the device and software updates are available and install them on time

    When buying a device, always make sure that the vendor provides updates and always apply them as soon as they become available. Implement automatic updates when possible as noted above.
  • Keep track of device available features and disable the unused features

    Check the available features on your devices and switch off any that you don’t intend to use to reduce the potential attack opportunities.
  • Choose an expert cybersecurity provider

    You want IoT to fuel your business, not hurt it. To help, many businesses rely on a reputable cybersecurity and antivirus provider to access vulnerabilities and provide unique solutions that prevent cyberattacks.

IoT isn't a tech fad. More companies can realize their potential with connected devices, but you can't overlook security concerns. As you build your IoT ecosystem, make sure your company, data and processes are protected.

Related articles and links:

Internet of Things Security Risks

Security of Internet of Things

Products:

Enterprise Security: IoT and Embedded Security

Internet of Things: What Is IoT? IoT Security

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a collection of devices that are connected to the Internet. Learn more about IoT, how your business can benefit from it and IoT security here.
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