The Internet of Things: Frequently Asked Questions

Eric A. Fischer at the Congressional Research Service: “Internet of Things” (IoT) refers to networks of objects that communicate with other objects and with computers through the Internet. “Things” may include virtually any object for which remote communication, data collection, or control might be useful, such as vehicles, appliances, medical devices, electric grids, transportation infrastructure, manufacturing equipment, or building systems. In other words, the IoT potentially includes huge numbers and kinds of interconnected objects. It is often considered the next major stage in the evolution of cyberspace. Some observers believe it might even lead to a world where cyberspace and human space would seem to effectively merge, with unpredictable but potentially momentous societal and cultural impacts.

Two features makes objects part of the IoT—a unique identifier and Internet connectivity. Such “smart” objects each have a unique Internet Protocol (IP) address to identify the object sending and receiving information. Smart objects can form systems that communicate among themselves, usually in concert with computers, allowing automated and remote control of many independent processes and potentially transforming them into integrated systems. Those systems can potentially impact homes and communities, factories and cities, and every sector of the economy, both domestically and globally. Although the full extent and nature of the IoT’s impacts remain uncertain, economic analyses predict that it will contribute trillions of dollars to economic growth over the next decade. Sectors that may be particularly affected include agriculture, energy, government, health care, manufacturing, and transportation.

The IoT can contribute to more integrated and functional infrastructure, especially in “smart cities,” with projected improvements in transportation, utilities, and other municipal services. The Obama Administration announced a smart-cities initiative in September 2015. There is no single federal agency that has overall responsibility for the IoT. Agencies may find IoT applications useful in helping them fulfill their missions. Each is responsible for the functioning and security of its own IoT, although some technologies, such as drones, may fall under the jurisdiction of other agencies as well. Various agencies also have relevant regulatory, sector-specific, and other mission-related responsibilities, such as the Departments of Commerce, Energy, and Transportation, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Federal Trade Commission.

Security and privacy are often cited as major issues for the IoT, given the perceived difficulties of providing adequate cybersecurity for it, the increasing role of smart objects in controlling components of infrastructure, and the enormous increase in potential points of attack posed by the proliferation of such objects. The IoT may also pose increased risks to privacy, with cyberattacks potentially resulting in exfiltration of identifying or other sensitive information about an individual. With an increasing number of IoT objects in use, privacy concerns also include questions about the ownership, processing, and use of the data they generate….(More)”