The Internet of Things (IoT) has huge economic value, with McKinsey & Company reporting that it has the potential to add $6.2 trillion to the global economy by 2025. Gartner estimated there will be approximately 26 billion connected devices in use by 2020. These incoming IoT-connected solutions can enable governments to transform their engagement with, and delivery of services to, citizens, businesses and departments.

This transformation has already begun. In the U.K., Transport for London (TFL) has begun experimenting with IoT devices to improve public services. Similarly, London City Airport is trialing IoT applications to improve customer experience and passenger flow by providing customers with more accurate doorstep-to-destination data.

“Using networks of sensors, cameras and smart devices connected via the cloud, we can infuse intelligence across urban infrastructures, which then gather data about the situation on the ground,” Harriet Green, general manager of IBM’s Internet of Things division, said in an email.

Is the IoT Just Another Burden?

The overarching benefits of the IoT lie in the efficiencies and improvements that can be made through a better understanding of citizens’ public service usage. But with the benefits of IoT adoption, there are also challenges around security, skill sets and privacy.

With an increased dependence on cyberspace, there are risks that could lead to systems being damaged or data getting compromised. To paint a picture of what’s at stake, according to the Ponemon Institute, the average cost of a data breach is 2.53 million pounds, a 6.5 percent increase in total cost over the past two years.

Countries have begun enacting laws to protect their data from cyberattacks. In the instance of the U.K., the government announced a five-year, 1.9 billion-pound cyber investment plan, along with strategies from government bodies such as Government Digital Services and GCHQ’s CyberInvest. These will tackle current skill shortages, business continuity management, encryption and tightened security of systems.

Laws such as the proposed Investigatory Powers Bill, which allows the government to monitor people, have been widely criticized, and IoT adoption will only add to privacy concerns as cyberattacks become more mainstream. If security controls aren’t addressed early on, the threat from IoT is big. In a worst-case scenario, terrorists could gain access to information they could employ for surveillance or other disreputable purposes.

There are already strong positive cases where IoT is being leveraged to improve the delivery of services. For example, IBM researchers are working with the Nairobi, Kenya, city government to mount IoT devices to waste collection vehicles. They are using the data to better understand the conditions of the city and map the location of thousands of potholes to enable more responsive, targeted action plans. Here, real-time analytics enable drivers to plan more efficient routes through better sections of road. As a result, Nairobi has been able to increase its waste collection from 800 to 1,400 metric tons per day.

Building In, Not Bolting On

Security must be designed from the start — before driverless vehicles are on the road, before smart meters are installed in buildings and before a patient is given a wearable device for health monitoring purposes. These are just a few innovations that bring huge benefits, but there are no benefits without risk.

The government has a responsibility to support departments, private sector businesses and citizens as they implement and use IoT devices securely. It also plays a critical role in defending the volume of personal data its systems will hold as a result of the implementation of IoT innovations.

Security incidents are not questions of if, but when. In the unfortunate case of a compromise or breach, there needs to be an adequate response process. A proactive, comprehensive approach is required for any incident response platform, and organizations should consult the staff responsible to respond from both the technical and board levels. With next-generation intelligent and integrated threat protection solutions, governments will be able to better defend themselves against sophisticated attacks.

It is clear that IoT adoption in government brings a string of security hurdles. Security policy frameworks need to remediate privacy concerns and put stringent measures in place to protect infrastructure, systems and devices from being attacked. Ultimately the benefits of utilizing IoT data will be passed onto public citizens; because of that, it is a hurdle worth jumping. IoT can improve public services and lives, but we need to be ready.

Listen to the podcast series: Five Indisputable Facts about IoT Security

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