The future of the Internet of Things (IoT) promises to connect all aspects of modern life, from your fridge to the street lights outside your house. Just as it can be capitalised on to benefit modern life, IoT offers the promise of a more connected and efficient military.
But many Defence Department IT pros are struggling to make that promise a reality; deterred by the increasing demands and security vulnerabilities more connected devices could inflict on the network.
In reality though, the groundwork for a connected military was laid when administrators were working on plans to fortify their networks against the onslaught of mobile devices and bring your own device (BYOD) policies. Without knowing it, they had begun implementing and solidifying strategies for BYOD that can now serve as a good foundation for managing the challenges IoT poses.
Small devices pose big problems
The biggest challenge these small devices pose is the sheer volume; IoT results in a plethora of tiny connected devices with different operating systems, all pumping vast amounts of data through already overloaded networks. Within the military specifically this can range from internet-connected helmets to automated vehicles and drones, all sporting tiny microsensors capable of processing and delivering large amounts of actionable data that can be utilised both in command centers and the field.
As with other industries, the key challenge facing defence IT pros implementing IoT is security. Many of these technologies were developed primarily for convenience, with security as an afterthought; a development process which is not appealing to the defence department where security is a primary concern.
The explosion of IoT devices also brings big problems in terms of bandwidth and latency. The more devices that are connected, the slower a network is likely to be. They can also result in the need for more downtime. All issues which are not acceptable. Network administrators need to take care to keep latency at a minimum, while successfully managing bandwidth capacity that is likely being inundated with connections.
Automatically realising the IoT dream
These big problems are not without big solutions. The groundwork laid down by BYOD can help to streamline implementation procedures amongst the military. Security challenges can be overcome through monitoring user devices, managing logs and events, and encrypting channels – all processes administrators no doubt began implementing in earnest when the first smartwatch or personal phone hit the network. While these are the principles of a basic foundation for managing IoT, they will need to be executed even more robustly in order to manage the swell of devices, traffic and data.
Administrators who are already deploying software to track devices will need to accelerate their efforts. Device tracking will help identify users and devices and create watch lists, but that challenge will increase in parallel with the devices joining the network. For the defence sector particularly, some of these will be completely new technologies; from robotic limbs for soldiers, to uniforms able to report on the wearers vitals. While log and event management software will continue to provide data about potential attacks, the attack surface and potential vulnerabilities will increase exponentially with the introduction of a greater number of devices and network access points.
With more threats than ever, IT pros will want to complement these efforts with network automation solutions that have the ability to correct issues as they arise. Automation can create a self-healing network that is well protected, resulting in significantly less downtime. It also streamlines processes for IT pros, making it easier to get a handle on everything the network touches – whether it’s one device or thousands.
For defence, automation allows IT pros to modernise their networks and handle issues like IoT. Despite this, many are still guilty of outdated thinking and using legacy systems. This old fashioned mind-set cannot work in a world of modern devices where everything from the tablets at command centre, to the very uniforms soldiers are wearing on the frontline, will someday be connected.
Public sector IT administrators need to build on the groundwork already laid out by BYOD adoption to ensure the military is ready to realise the connected and mobilised future of defence.
Joe Kim SVP and CTO at SolarWinds
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