This is What Techies Talked about in June

Top technology news in a 10-minute read.
In this issue of the Tech Digest: companies are adopting IoT tools to battle the coronavirus in the workplace, IIoT retrofit kits help manufacturing companies innovate on a budget, and the new old security flaws are haunting millions of connected devices around the world. All that and more in a 10-minute read.

COVID-19 is making the Connected Office a viable reality — but are we ready for it?

As companies are slowly but surely bringing their employees back to the office, the technology market is getting flooded with smart solutions designed to help businesses prevent the coronavirus from spreading in the workplace. These include contact-tracing apps, body temperature monitors with face recognition capabilities, and intelligent sensors that detect the virus in the air. What these solutions often lack is actual COVID-19 testing. To solve this problem, forward-thinking IoT vendors are joining forces with the manufacturers of FDA-approved coronavirus tests. One of these efforts is Covitech, a system that allows employees to check their symptoms at home and measure body temperature in the office. The solution also automatically replenishes protective equipment and disinfectants and tracks the COVID-19 status of individuals employed with a company. Another example comes from Amazon. The eCommerce juggernaut is now deploying social distancing software in warehouses across the USA. The application analyzes live video data and provides immediate visual feedback to employees who fail to keep a safe social distance. But there are two sides to every story. Stacey Higginbotham, a recognized IoT influencer, argues that technology in general — and the Internet of Things in particular — has a long-neglected consent problem. Sensors, cameras, and microphones deployed in the workplace open a window into employees’ private lives, and it’s not always clear how technology companies use this data. The growing adoption of IoT in business also calls for a complete digital overhaul of the existing IT infrastructure. Companies need new business processes, new software, and new hardware to capture critical data and act on it. To learn more about the tools and techniques for planning a successful IoT project, make sure to sign up for the free webinar hosted by IoT for All on June 30.

Factories are getting smarter. How do manufacturing companies venture into IIoT without breaking the bank?

According to Meticulous Research, the Industrial Internet of Things could become a $263.4 billion market by 2027. Given that 85% of factories’ inventory is currently not connected to the Internet, the forecast is looking over-optimistic — even though more companies are turning to IIoT during the deepening economic crisis to manage equipment remotely and avoid unplanned downtime. To implement IoT solutions in industrial settings, businesses need to enhance machines with sensors, programmable controllers, modern HMIs, and data analytics tools. The problem is, much of the equipment used by manufacturing companies today does not support IoT tools by default. To swap out the machines that have not reached their depreciation limits for newer models would be economically unreasonable. Retrofitting legacy equipment using IIoT kits developed by an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or 3rd-party technology company is an excellent way to venture into the Industrial IoT without significant up-front investments. In cases when there is no suitable retrofit IoT solution available on the market, manufacturing companies could design custom hardware and data analytics tools driven by cloud platforms, such as PTC ThingWorx or AWS IoT. Meanwhile, a healthy combination of cloud and edge computing helps industrial companies process sensor data closer to where it is produced and thus save bandwidth. A decision to adopt smart factory solutions, however, should be driven by business objectives rather than the growing pressure to keep a competitive edge.

Researchers uncover new IoT security vulnerabilities. What is Ripple20, and is your company affected?

JSOF, an Israeli cybersecurity firm, has recently disclosed 19 vulnerabilities in a TCP/IP library that allows devices and apps to connect to the Internet. Developed in 1997, the technology is used by a variety of business and consumer IT solutions: healthcare systems, enterprise software, industrial equipment, and Smart Home devices. Collectively referred to as Ripple20, the vulnerabilities enable cybercriminals to paralyze devices connected to the Internet or local networks and force them to execute malicious code. The security flaws could exist in any connected device produced by major OEMs and consumer electronics companies, including Intel, Caterpillar, and Rockwell Automation. JSOF reached out to every vendor whose products had been affected, and many of the companies have already issued security updates. But the threat is still hanging over industrial companies, where connected equipment often goes unpatched for years to avoid downtime. And the mere fact that millions of devices have been on cybercriminals’ radar for so long reveals how messy the independent IoT security ecosystem remains. But experts are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. The global lockdown and work-from-home policies have led to a resurgence of cyberattacks targeting the business sector, with ransomware and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks growing by double digits. Consequently, more companies are taking measures to improve cybersecurity readiness and resilience. Almost a third of companies interviewed by Bitdefender now intend to keep 24/7 IT support departments to mitigate security risks, while 20% of the respondents have developed new cybersecurity guidelines and revised their approach to employee training.

Tech companies are gearing up to conquer telecom. Will they succeed in making our telepresence more compelling?

Following the pandemic, 67% of companies might continue to work from home forever or for an indefinitely long period. 47% of businesses, meanwhile, are expected to reduce their physical office footprint. It doesn’t come as a surprise that Silicon Valley companies are now eyeing the videoconferencing market in the hope of creating a more compelling alternative to Zoom, which registered a record $27 million profit in Q1 2020 despite the growing security concerns. The popular videoconferencing tool is currently lacking many of the features that could make WFH meetings more efficient. These include Extended Reality (ER), collaborative documents, whiteboards, and Artificial Intelligence. Steven Levy of Wired believes it could take years before bulky VR headsets slim down for everyday use and we hang out with our colleagues in virtual workspaces. But the telecom revolution has already kicked off. Facebook Messenger rooms, for example, liven up boring meetings with visual effects. Apple’s animoji have given a boost to digital avatars. And companies like High Fidelity and Shindig are experimenting with 3D audio and videoconferencing tools that allow speakers to present content to an online audience of up to 10 thousand people.
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