Security, interoperability hinder agency IoT adoption

In a survey of how federal agencies use the internet of things, the Government Accountability Office found that while IoT technologies offer a number of benefits, security and implementation challenges remain.

According to a web-based survey conducted between Dec. 16, 2019, and Feb. 12, 2020, GAO reported that many agencies are using IoT technologies, primarily for monitoring equipment or systems such as building control systems, controlling access to devices or facilities and tracking physical assets such as fleet vehicles or agency property. Some deployed IoT sensors for environmental monitoring, tracking performance of equipment and surveillance.  

Most agencies said they relied on commercial IoT products, but cited security concerns with them. In one case NASA allowed staff to bring in IoT devices, register them and evaluate how they operated, communicated and the amount of bandwidth they used. In the end, NASA determined that most IoT devices could not be trusted on its networks.

To address security concerns, NASA’s Johnson Space Center created a separate network to test IoT devices to ensure they would not compromise its network. The Environmental Protection Agency tested IoT devices in an external cloud environment before introducing the data into the agency’s network.

Officials from NASA’s Langley Research Center told GAO that NASA could benefit from expanded use of IoT, but “the implementation process for these devices is too burdensome.” Connecting any device to NASA’s network can be challenging, officials said, because they must first determine if devices communicate with systems outside of NASA.

Interoperability with legacy systems was the second-most frequently cited challenge. New IoT technologies are often unable to work with an agency’s existing systems, limiting their benefits. When NASA segregated IoT devices from the legacy systems to control how they interacted, it had to take the extra step of importing the IoT data back into the legacy systems.

Other hurdles included a shortage of knowledgeable personnel and privacy concerns.

Despite the challenges, GAO found nearly half the agencies currently using IoT technologies indicated they planned to expand their use in the next five years.

Read the full report here.

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