Anyone in the know knows the Internet of Things (IoT) is a hot topic these days.

The impact of the IoT is as wide as you can image, spanning everything from your toaster to your car to whole businesses and even cities. Everyone and everything seems eager to integrate the IoT in some way.

But many experts worry about IoT security and privacy — or the absence of security and privacy.

"Rapidly increasing incorporation of networked computation into everything from our homes to hospitals to transportation systems can dramatically increase the adverse consequences of poor cybersecurity," said Philip Levis, associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering at Stanford University.

Now the National Science Foundation (NSF) has teamed up with Intel to chip away at the problem.

Addressing an Issue

The NSF and Intel have formed an innovative cooperative research model.

They've created two new grants totaling $6 million, which will be directed at improving security for the Internet of Things. They're earmarked for teams that will study solutions to address Security and Privacy-Aware Cyber-Physical Systems and CPS-Security: End-to-End Security for the Internet of Things.

The inclusion of the NSF into the research behind the Internet of Things underscores the gravity of this topic.

The NSF, an independent US federal agency, supports fundamental research in science and engineering fields, with the exception of medicine.

This partnership between NSF and Intel represents a new model of cooperation between government, industry and academia that supporters claim will increase the relevance and impact of long-range research. 

It can lead to better understanding and mitigation of threats "to our critical cyber-physical systems and secure the nation's economy, public safety and overall wellbeing," Jim Kurose, head of Computer and Information Science and Engineering at NSF, noted in a statement.

A Growing Concern

As the IoT grows, so will the problem.

Every day, IoT devices further integrate into our daily lives. We continue to share our data via our devices and leave a digital trail through our interactions.

This data holds great value for companies with the tools, technologies and strategies to analyze and act on it. However, it also creates risks for the end users.

Is anything really private anymore?

It's fair to say that most companies entering the IoT space are making data privacy a priority, for regulatory, legal and compliance issues alone.

And while defining privacy policies and taking steps to anonymize customer data is a good start, there's a lot more to be done.

As the amount of data we generate through our interactions increase, the necessity of IoT privacy and security will become even more paramount.

The Security Issue

Security for the IoT tends to focus on the connections between devices: the type of encryption being used and the ways the devices authenticate each other.

The IoT poses some very security challenges.

Many of the devices deal with significant power or processing constraints. What's more, many of the transitional communications protocols predate the IoT and the type of security it requires.

These kinds of issues make the NSF-Intel partnership grants a critical step forward.

While the loT has advanced in spite of security and privacy issues, a single significant incident could stall its progress.

By stepping in and funding research, the NSF and Intel are jointly acknowledging that the IoT is more than a flash in the pan.

It could be the single most important technological change of our time.

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