What’s Stopping Education IoT?

College and University campuses could greatly benefit from the Internet of Things, so why is adoption in higher ed lagging?

The proliferation of Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices is on a steady rise. Analysts predict that from now through 2020, the number of connected “things” will grow from 13.5 billion units to 38.5 billion units, a growth of over 285 percent.

While many people think of consumer devices, like smart TVs and thermostats, as making up the bulk of IoT devices, their role in education should not be overlooked. More and more, everything on a campus is connected to the Internet. And, just as IoT connected devices are improving consumers’ lives, enterprises’ business and public sector organizations’ services, IoT could benefit the entire education ecosystem in numerous ways.

How College and University Campuses could Benefit from IoT

Online classes, text books and student portals not only make learning easier for students, but they make teaching more efficient for the institutions. Further, the data from all of these connected devices, particularly from wearables, can be used to further increase efficiency, save money and make campuses safer for students.

Educational institutions have been slow to adopt IoT so far, but that will change in 2017 as most industry experts expect wearables and mobile devices to become more prevalent in the classroom. From virtual and augmented reality gear to life-logging and brain sensing technology, the progress wearables have made in enterprises over the last several years have created an opening for the classroom. However, two particular roadblocks still remain.

Slow IPv6 Adoption

Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) is basically the newest version of the identification, location and routing system for everything on the Internet. It is replacing IPv4, which is close to running out of Internet addresses. The more modern IPv6 is also technically better than its predecessor, having been designed with greater consideration for mobility and security, both at the heart of IoT. Without the extensive global adoption and successful deployment of IPv6 as the primary version of the Internet Protocol, IoT won’t be possible. There simply are not enough addresses left to support all of the connected devices.

Luckily, recent reports have found consistent increases in IPv6 adoption, a trend that appears to be accelerating. In fact, in July 2016, the major U.S. mobile networks passed a significant milestone, reaching IPv6 adoption levels of greater than 50 percent. At the same time, Comcast Cable announced that 50 percent of its traffic would be on IPv6 by the end of 2016. In addition, Akamai’s U.S. federal government customers, who represent 85 percent of the Internet traffic in and out of the government, leverage IPv6 55 percent of the time and the number continues to grow faster than the commercial market. This increased IPv6 adoption will clear the way for increased IoT adoption in educational institutions in 2017.

(Next page: Lagging higher ed IoT due to security vulnerabilities)

Security Vulnerabilities

Recent high-profile attacks have resurfaced security concerns with IoT devices. Akamai’s Threat Research team recently reported on a case where millions of IoT devices were being used as the source for web-based attacks. When we dug a little deeper, we found evidence that these IoT devices were being used as proxies to route malicious traffic due to some default configuration weaknesses in their operating systems. While this has been reported before, the vulnerability has resurfaced with the increase of connected devices.

With other, non-IoT types of devices (including general purpose computers), owners can patch or reconfigure their systems to close vulnerabilities. In the IoT, device owners are often at the mercy of vendor updates in order to remove their devices from the pool of botnet nodes. In some cases, IoT devices are entirely un-patchable and will remain vulnerable until removed from service. And once malicious users access the web administration console of these devices, they can then compromise the device’s data and in some cases, take over the machine.

Since so many of these types of attacks have occurred recently it is likely that addressing the route of the problem will be a top priority this year. Government agencies may very well implement specific security requirements for these devices, and certainly work is done on a continuous basis to improve cybersecurity across all networks.

IoT adoption will continue to advance across all industries and make particularly great strides in education as wearables become more prevalent in the classroom. The benefits from IoT devices of all types and the data they generate to students, teachers and administrators are innumerable. But we must continue to make progress towards increased IPv6 adoption and securing these devices if IoT is to reach its full potential. All signs are indicating that we will and that 2017 could be the year for education IoT.

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