We expect the Internet of Things (IoT) to be the biggest system that mankind has ever built. In a few years’ time, 75% of the world’s population will have access to the internet and by 2015 alone, we expect there to be more than 6.5 billion objects connected to the internet and cooperating partially without human intervention.”  – Stefan Ferber, Bosch Software Innovations

The Internet of Things (IoT) will be one of the most transformative technological trends to impact global society since the widespread adoption of the World Wide Web in the 1990s. The IoT, the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states and/or the external environment, is estimated by some prominent research organisations such as McKinsey & Company to generate USD 6 trillion in value by 2025. Cisco is even more optimistic, claiming that the value of connecting people, data, objects and systems will exceed USD 14 trillion by 2022.

In-depth discussions concerning the potential impact on of the IoT on global affairs and international security are well underway from a technical perspective. Thorough discussions concerning the increasing attention that needs to be paid to cybersecurity policy and threats from governments and businesses are taking place in respected international publications and online sources. However,  these discussions are largely influenced by technology specialists who do a great job of explaining the technical nuances of the ways the IoT will work and the measures businesses and governments need to put into place to ensure that this network is successfully created.

However, the perspectives political science and international relations experts also add considerable value as to the role of this emerging technology in global affairs, especially on the potential strategic impact of the IoT impact International Security.

The IoT will impact every area of Global Affairs from security to business to international development and aid. As objects, data, systems and people become part of this global interconnected network, business models, stakeholder interaction, systems of governance and security threats will irrevocably change. Governments, not-for-profit organisations and businesses will have no choice but to innovate, optimise and incorporate an increasingly disparate array of digital touchpoints when engaging with stakeholders, assessing threats and collaborating with partners. This is not a technological problem, it is a strategic issue that has no tool or program that will solve the problems that this technology will bring.

Here are five ways the IoT will impact security concerns in the international system:

1. Increased Threat Scope

The IoT will provide security professionals with a tremendous increase in the amount of data that will be generated. Every object that can be embedded with a low-cost, Internet-ready sensor will be. A wealth of information will be created by people and their relationship to the connected physical environment around them, thereby giving security professionals an unprecedented opportunity to analyse human behaviour at at an incredibly precise level. On the other hand, analysing data in terabytes and petabytes, potentially increases the difficulty in accurately identifying threats because the haystack in which to look for the proverbial needle increases manifold.

2. Paralysis by (Lack Of) Analysis

The increase in the scale of data brought about by the connection of the physical environment with the digital could also cause paralysis by analysis. Business leaders have long raised the imperative that there is a shortage of data science experts in the job market at the moment. The main concern is not the increase in the volume of data, but the shortage of people who can accurately and creatively analyse digital data from different sources that comes from connecting the previously unconnected.

3. Algorithmic Security

The data explosion is both a blessing and a curse. As people willingly (and at times unknowingly) share an increasing amount of their data online, it becomes impossible to determine threats using solely human judgement. Security professionals will, as a result, find themselves increasingly relying on the conclusions of algorithms to determine the veracity of a threat. It is hoped that predictive analytics will enable security professionals to identify threats before they become widespread issues such as pandemics, climate problems and terrorist threats. Securing threats by algorithm is both a blessing and a curse. Relying on increasingly sophisticated algorithms to come to sound and nuanced judgements is an incredibly indispensable tool. However, over reliance on such tools could open the door to erroneous threat assessments and potentially incorrect use of resources.

4. Privacy: The Great Trade Off?

Privacy in the IoT age is expected to be the great casualty of a world in which everything and everyone is connected 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You don’t have to search very far to see respected commentators and industry leaders proclaim that privacy in the digital age is an anachronism, to be cast aside as we increasingly place our personal data online using digital devices and services. I think that this tells only half the story. Privacy as we currently know it will probably cease to exist but something else will take its place. In the age of the internet of things, we will have the ability to share every aspect of our lives no matter how small, no matter how insignificant. Connected objects will be able to communicate with one another and ‘connect’ to other people or devices in the same vicinity based on the behaviour of the person. Privacy will not die, people’s conception of privacy will simply become more nuanced in the digital age. People will gradually learn to make highly sophisticated decisions as to when, where and to whom they want to be connected and based on the right information served to them at the right time. As people become more aware of when and where they want to be connected, the opportunities to engage with the right people at specific places and times will become a highly lucrative art and science for both companies as well as people.

The age of the IoT will be defined by radical openness, where everything and everyone will be transparent. It will be nigh on impossible to trust individuals and organisations that do not embrace this form of transparency. People will not trade their privacy in return for goods and services as many think. In the end, people will trade their privacy to become part of society and demand that organisations and institutions do likewise.

5. Enhanced Collaboration

With the number of digital touchpoints that emerge in the age of the IoT increasing copiously, it is essential that security professionals collaborate with other organisations and institutions to share information and insights freely and easily. Greater collaboration and sharing of information will lead to unthought of insights, new efficiencies, and greater situational awareness than has been hitherto available.

In the age of the IoT, the institutions and organisations that thrive will be those that are able to pivot well, those that are able to identify and capitalise on new opportunities emerging from engagement with stakeholder groups and customers in completely different industry sectors as they make their journey through life. Nike’s evolution from a sportswear manufacturer to an influential personal health data provider is a stark example of this. International security professionals are going to have to be every bit as innovative as this to meet the challenges emerging from as a result of this new technological horizon. Doing nothing will not be an option, but acting now will bring great rewards.