By Mike O’Malley
Internet of Things (IoT) technology has become an important and critical enabler during the coronavirus pandemic with many using IoT applications to adapt to the new normal.
From telehealth, to hospital robots to at-home monitoring devices, new IoT innovations developed in this pandemic are transforming the way we approach—and treat—today’s public health catastrophe while also preparing us for the future.
IoT Proliferates during Extraordinary Times
At the end of 2019 there were 7.6 billion active IoT devices, a figure which is predicted to grow to 24.1 billion in 2030, according to research published by Transforma Insights.
This proliferation of internet-connected devices helps protect our homes, keep us organized and even monitor endangered wildlife. And now, they’re helping inform experts and laypeople alike on the novel coronavirus.
In an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, health officials are encouraging patients to “connect remotely via an app to a doctor who can triage their symptoms while they’re still at home.” One such app, called MaNaDr, allows patients in Singapore to check in with their healthcare providers regularly and report on their symptoms; if they’re worsening, the doctor can then order an ambulance.
In order to scale critical ICU nursing resources during the outbreak in Wuhan, China, a field hospital was staffed primarily with IoT robots to clean, disinfect, deliver medicines and take patients’ temperatures in the hospital. Hospital administrators indicated that the robots both better scaled nursing resources for critical care as well as lessened the transmission of the virus to hospital staff.
And in the U.S., the renowned Mayo Clinic is reportedly in talks with “makers of remote monitoring tools about ways to keep closer tabs on patients with COVID-19 who don’t require intensive care.”
Similarly, to keep non-COVID patients healthy at home, TIME reports that other IoT devices measure “health metrics like temperature, blood pressure and blood sugar several times a day, and the results are automatically stored on the cloud, from which doctors get alerts if the readings are abnormal.”
Beyond collecting individual health stats, IoT devices are tracking community-level data, which in turn is used to better understand the evolution of the virus. According to TIME, “retail drugstores track inventory and sales of nonprescription fever reducers, for example, and any trends in those data might serve as an early, albeit crude, harbinger of growing spread of disease in a community. And given the proliferation of health–tracking apps on smartphones, analyzing data trends like a rise in average body temperature in a given geographical area could provide clues to emerging clusters of cases.”
Case in point: the “U.S. health weather map” powered by Kinsa Insights provides a visualization of aggregated data on fevers and flu-like illnesses. Healthcare providers can then use the maps to identify areas where there are spikes in illness and gauge whether measures are successfully helping to slow the spread of COVID-19 in other areas.
IoT Security Challenges during COVID-19
When you consider how much more we are relying on connected devices to help battle this pandemic, and how much personal, sensitive data is collected in the process, security must be top of mind. There are both privacy and security issues that will need to be discussed in the long term with regards to what and how much personal data about your health and physical location is medically necessary for global health organizations to track and effectively fight a pandemic.
But even that aside, the pace of IoT innovation in telehealth to fight a pandemic—that fundamentally requires a reduction in person-to-person contact—means that companies are launching innovation before security strategies…sometimes even before the technology is ready. Past history has shown that exactly these types of fortuitous circumstances are when hackers strike.
As unfortunate as it is, hackers won’t stop committing cybercrimes just because there is a global crisis. Indeed, we’re seeing multiple reports of phishing, ransomware attacks, attacks on IOT devices themselves, IOT API attacks and other threats, as criminals exploit the public’s fear and take advantage of widespread strains on critical infrastructures.
Now, more than ever, it’s crucial that health and government officials move to secure their systems –their websites, clouds, telehealth apps, APIs, electronic health records, etc. – that devices (and their data) connect to. While this is admittedly a daunting task as we roll out these new innovations to meet the crisis, the good news is that security experts exist for this very reason and ought to be utilized; after all, hospitals have more than enough to worry about right now.
Mike O’Malley is VP of Strategy of Radware.