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What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?


What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the network of physical objects that are connected to the internet using software, sensors, and other technologies. In effect, this allows the devices to “talk” to the cloud, sending data that is processed in the cloud and then returned to the end-user.

A Historic Timeline of IoT

Given its current popularity, it is not surprising that the concept of IoT was discussed throughout the 1980s, but it may date back to even earlier times.

1974-- The Beginning of TCP/IP

In 1974, Robert E. Kahn and Vinton Cerf invented the Internet Protocol (IP) and Transmission Control Protocol (TCP). IP makes sure data goes from one place to another without any being lost along the way. TCP helps reassemble the data into what it was before it began its journey.

1990 -- The First IoT Device

In 1990, John Romkey made a toaster that could be switched on and off over the internet. He made and presented it for the October ’89 INTEROP conference.

1991 -- The First Webpage

Tim Berners-Lee created the first webpage in 1991, and it had the address It ran on a NeXT computer at CERN, which is the European Laboratory for Particle Physics.

1999 -- IoT is Coined for the First Time

Kevin Ashton first coined the actual term “Internet of Things” in 1999 while he was giving a PowerPoint presentation for Procter & Gamble. He proposed devices that could sense their surroundings using sensors and software.

2013 -- The First Official Entry of Internet of Things

Even though the term had already been around for 14 years, the Oxford Dictionary added “Internet of Things” to its pages in 2013. The influence of advocates like Helen Duce likely played a role. Ms. Duce wrote, "We have a clear vision—to create a world where every object—from jumbo jets to sewing needles—is linked to the internet."

2016 -- Mirai Botnet Almost Brings Down the Internet

The Mirai botnet infected over 600,000 devices with malware in 2016 and then executed an enormous distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack using the devices.

2020 -- IoT Devices Exceed 20 Billion

There are over 20 billion devices connected to the internet, and that number will continue to grow over the next decade. This is primarily due to the value many enterprises put in producing products and services that either depend on or heavily leverage internet connectivity. Soon, an electrical device may seem obsolete if it does not at least allow for a connection to the internet.

Examples of IoT

What is IoT? We are surrounded by a plethora of different types of IoT devices. While some are still viewed as cutting edge, many have become common elements of everyday life.

Smart Devices

Perhaps the first IoT device, a toaster, was a forbearer of things to come. Now, in addition to toasters, many kitchens boast smart refrigerators and ovens. Smart thermostats manage and adjust to the heating needs of people’s homes, and televisions can be programmed remotely to record shows while their owner is thousands of miles away.


Wearables work by incorporating software and sensors that collect data about the person wearing them. The data is processed to reveal insights about the user. Wearables penetrate a wide variety of markets, from fitness to health to entertainment.

Connected Car

The term “connected car” refers to a vehicle that can optimize its own operation, with maintenance and comforts designed to enhance the experience of passengers and drivers. Many prominent auto manufacturers such as Tesla, Jeep, and BMW have developed connected cars. Other companies, like Apple and Google, are in the process of developing connected cars for mainstream audiences.


The advantage of having more access to their devices’ data is one major reason many companies have already implemented IoT in their business model. Many are adjusting their product offerings, as well as systems, to reap some of the rewards of IoT incorporation.

Increased Productivity

IoT devices can increase productivity in manufacturing with their ability to update in real time, making it easier to report needs along the supply chain and within factories—even before they arise.

Companies can also use IoT devices to introduce remote troubleshooting of devices employees use to enhance productivity. They can also make employees' lives more seamless with automated tea or coffee makers, self-sterilizing bathrooms, and the like.

Lower Operational Costs

IoT solutions can help companies slash costs, making their business more financially sustainable. In manufacturing, for example, IoT devices can track equipment and manage their maintenance schedules. Businesses can save money on HVAC expenses with automated IoT-powered heating and cooling systems.

Empowered Smart Device Applications

In a variety of business sectors, IoT devices have grown in popularity. In the healthcare, entertainment, transportation, hospitality, and education industries, IoT usage has been and will continue to increase as users find more ways of leveraging real-time, interactive data.

Challenges of IoT

The flexibility and possibility of IoT come with significant challenges. With a well-designed threat detection and response system in place, however, an organization can meet the following obstacles head on.

Data Interception and Exploitation

The data that goes between IoT devices and the cloud can be intercepted by bad actors and then used to extort companies or sold to the highest bidder. This includes users’ personal information, medical records, and identities.

Devices as Breach Opportunities

Every connected device is a potential entry point for a hacker. They can be used as a convenient access point for a network or to introduce malware.

Compromised Devices Affecting the Manufacturing Process

Because IoT devices can control the critical machines a manufacturer uses, they need to be carefully secured.

Interruption or Hacking of Critical Infrastructure

More and more, IoT is becoming incorporated in transportation, chemical refineries, energy grids, and other critical elements of everyday infrastructure. If these were hacked, pivotal services could be interrupted.

Security-related Challenges

Some of the challenges faced by IoT are not necessarily new, but the way they affect IoT devices is unique.

An Increase of Botnets

A botnet is a string of internet-connected devices that hackers implement to remotely control IoT devices and use them for illegal activity. The more IoT permeates business, the more botnet attacks there will be.

Lack of Encryption

Many IoT devices do not have the storage or processing capabilities that would enable them to take advantage of the kinds of encryption that computers use. This can leave their data exposed to hackers. Hackers can then manipulate the security protocols that were supposed to protect the IoT device.

Weak Passwords

Many devices come with default passwords that are weak and easy to figure out. If users fail to change the default passwords as soon as the device is installed, they can be especially vulnerable to attacks.

Phishing Attacks

IoT devices are the largest attack vector of phishing attacks, which is when an email is used to trick someone into opening and installing malware. Once a phishing attack has implanted malicious software, a hacker can send a signal to the IoT device to disable or control it.

User Privacy

Many IoT devices use user information to individualize the experiences they provide. Hacking into an IoT device can gain a malicious actor access to a treasure trove of personal data.

The Fortinet Solution: How Fortinet Tackles the Modern-day Challenges


FortiNAC provides visibility and control of IoT devices. Fortinet's IoT Solutions help an organization to attain:

  1. Network visibility or seeing each device and its user as they interact with the network
  2. Control over the network to restrict the access of certain devices
  3. Automatic responses to security events to reduce the amount of time it takes to address issues

FortiGuard IoT Service

FortiGuard offers simplified network security operations to manage and control IoT devices. With FortiGuard intelligence, IoT devices can be discovered and segmented, and policies can be enforced against them. Further, FortiGate can query FortiGuard servers to obtain information regarding unknown devices and then take appropriate action.

With FortiGuard, IoT devices can be assigned to network access control virtual local-area networks (NAC VLANs), which reduces the amount of work needed to manage them within customer environments. The Fortinet Security Fabric also gives organizations the ability to detect voice traffic, as well as the devices involved.

Fortinet Security Fabric

Organizations have an obligation to adopt a cybersecurity approach that gives them visibility over their network, as well as a way to manage their network operations and security. The Fortinet Security Fabric accomplishes this while also extending key services to the benefit of IoT devices.

With Fortinet, you get security-driven networking that adds speed and security to the user experience. Fortinet also provides an organization with zero-trust network access, which is particularly important with IoT devices. The more people who can access a device, the more careful you have to be regarding who is allowed in. 

To protect the data connections that help power the apps behind IoT functionality, Fortinet provides adaptive cloud security options. These help guard against the infiltration of cloud systems and the corruption of data. With Fortinet, you also gain access to security operations that use artificial intelligence (AI) to detect, prevent, and respond to cybersecurity threats.