Internet of Things Washing Machine or Watching Machine?

The Internet of Things is becoming an increasingly large part of our daily lives. Manufacturers of washing machines, for example, are thinking about how to make their machines smarter. What are the opportunities and risks for them, users and third parties?

Devices that can access the Internet offer manufacturers several advantages: They can automatically start the warranty period with the initial registration, monitor the machines online and register and statistically evaluate warranty work done per unit. On this basis, they can take preventive measures, plan provisions better or maintain the equipment proactively.

 

The amount of data provided by the IoT device will influence the number of possibilities. In the case of a washing machine, such data can include status (running, standby, error), number of washes, water and electricity consumption, used washing programs (time, frequency), weight of laundry and level of detergent. Thus, new possibilities for optimization are opened up to manufacturers, which can in turn benefit users. For example, washing programs can be improved during the lifetime of the machine, and simply be upgraded via the Internet.

New business models

IoT also allows for new business models, such as pay per use. The user no longer buys the washing machine, but "rents" it and pays per wash. Or in B2B: A washing machine with status "error" directly calls up a service partner of the manufacturer; when a detergent is on low level, it is directly ordered from a pre-selected supplier and replenished.

IoT: devices enter into new relationships with the environment
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IoT: devices enter into new relationships with the environment

If clothes are capable of communication in future (as smart clothes or just by RFID tags), their data can be shared with washing machines. For instance, best washing program and the right detergent can be automatically selected without requiring the user to pay careful attention. The clothing manufacturer is certainly also interested in data such as how often are garments washed, with what other garments are they washed – and implicitly, what else does this household wear? Are they washed with the proper detergent?

 

IoT can make washing clothes more environmentally friendly by correcting the dosage of the right detergent, or by more expedient services (i.e., fewer trips). If water or electricity are in short supply (e.g., if supplied by solar cells), the machine can delay the wash cycle.

Focus on data, devices, networks

Of course, it must be ensured that the information does not fall into the wrong hands, since it is quite revelatory. If a household usually washes twice a week and suddenly does not wash at all, this probably means that the residents are on vacation. If there are less wash cycles all of a sudden, then maybe someone has moved out. By using RFID tags in clothes one can find out how much the household spends on clothes, and on what kind of clothes. This allows for well-informed conclusions about the user’s lifestyle to be drawn.

 

Regardless of the data exchange, the washing machine itself may be attacked. With pay-per-use, some people would certainly try to manipulate the machine to wash without pay. A third party could manipulate the water pump to initiate water damage at the user's end. But the machine can also "just" serve as a springboard to penetrate the internal network – and potentially a corporate network.


Just like the washing machine, many devices are evolving in the era of IoT, and are beginning to interact with the environment. Manufacturers therefore need to screen their new use cases also for data and device security. They must ensure that IoT devices authenticate properly, that firmware will not be tampered with, that communication channels have end-to-end protection and that third parties do not abuse user data. So when IoT devices and solutions are developed, a trusted IT security provider is of utmost importance, either to play an advisory role or act as an implementation partner.

This article was published in "Focus Internet der Dinge" in Netzwoche no. 15 of 28.09.2016 and in Elektro Heute no. 4 of 31.10.2016.