Magazine article University Business

Preparing for the Internet of Things

Magazine article University Business

Preparing for the Internet of Things

Article excerpt

Devices will talk to other devices all over campus. Here's how to get ready.

A campus washing machine should send students a text when their clothes are done, and it can. Thanks to a concept called the Internet of Things, anything--really, anything--can and will be hooked up to a network. A simple bathroom scale in an athlete's dorm room can connect to Wi-Fi and transmit weight, body fat percentage, the room's air quality and other information to a network that can be monitored by sports trainers.

While little pockets of IoT are springing up in higher ed--both in the form of institution- and student-owned devices--campuswide installations are predicted to be a few years away. That's not an excuse for sitting back and waiting for smart coffee makers to pop up in every residence hall, however. Enough bandwidth needs to be purchased. Data storage and usage policies, including around security, need to be developed. Processes for managing more expansive networks need to be defined.

The potential of IoT could touch every aspect of campus life. Student traffic patterns could be tracked by networked wearables such as Fitbits, mobile phones and maybe even the next generation of access cards. Should a large number students cut through grass to get to a building, for example, campus facilities leaders can use that information to consider building a new sidewalk, says Travis Seekins, associate vice president of student technology at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas.

The best way to be ready for this worldwide phenomenon is to start planning and preparing as thoroughly as possible ... now.

Prepare for an uncertain future

There is still a great deal of uncertainty about the amount of devices that will be networked on any given campus.

"The scary part is we don't know the volume of IoT devices that will be coming, and there is a potential deluge we may not be prepared for," says Seekins. "Development happens so quickly, I fear higher ed's ability to keep up with data and make useful information secure."

But while institutions must attract and accommodate students, the desire to bring a device on campus and hook it up to Wi-Fi must be carefully weighed against security, says Seekins.

Also uncertain is what students will want to bring with them in any coming years, he says. "At what point do you potentially compromise security to provide a service that students feel they must have?"

The intimidating thing about these unknown devices is many of them may be flashy and attractive to students--such as smart shirts that measure heart rate and blood pressure for athletes--but many products may be cheaply made without the proper security built in.

"We have to take what we have learned about BYOD in terms of tracking and monitoring--basically, we have to scale that thinking and hope it works," says Seekins.

Beef up security controls

From MIT to Carnegie Mellon, large research institutions see IoT as an opportunity to explore and experiment. The CyLab at Carnegie Mellon, one of the largest university-based cybersecurity research centers in the U.S., prioritizes IoT security in particular. "This is an opportunity to take on a problem up front," says Vyas Sekar, a CyLab faculty member. "We can proactively inform how to build secure and private IoT infrastructure before it's here."

Areas of concern range from physical security--attackers could hack into traffic lights, potentially causing major car accidents--to data. A priority will be protecting personal information kept on campus cards that students now use for everything from entering residence halls to paying tuition.

How exactly to fortify these networks is a question Carnegie Mellon's CyLab is tackling. But researchers hope to develop the security parameters before IoT technology infiltrates every area of campus. "Identifying the specific risks and making it easy for IT staff to configure safety policies for hardware, software and the network are what needs to be the focus now," says Sekar. …

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