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New NHS testbeds highlight need for security in the internet of things

Multi-million pound investment, a research hub and now two NHS testbeds - progress is apparent in the internet of things (IoT). But what are we doing about security? 
 
There’s activity aplenty in the UK's IoT space. A £10m city demonstrator for Manchester was unveiled last month, a new research hub is being led by University College London and, just last week, at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, two NHS IoT testbeds were announced.
 
Hailed as a boost for self care, by National Health Executive, the testbeds will see frontline health and care workers pilot “a cutting-edge programme that brings together a network of interconnected modern technologies designed to help older patients with long term conditions monitor themselves remotely.” 
 
The programme promises to cut through the IoT hype and test practical benefits for patients inside the world’s largest public, integrated health service. 
 
The first testbed is led by the West of England Academic Health Science Networks with Diabetes UK and Hewlett Packard. Named Diabetes Digital Coach, it aims to combine mobile health self-management tools (wearable sensors and supporting software) with monitoring devices to enable people to self-manage their condition.
 
The second, dubbed Technology Integrated Health Management, is managed by Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and health technology providers. Its focus is to help people with dementia live in their own homes for longer. 
 
Together with their carers, they “will be provided with sensors, wearables, monitors and other devices to monitor their health remotely, empowering patients to take the reigns over their own wellbeing and enabling health and social care staff to be more responsive and effective.”
 
The multidisciplinary nature of the technology is key, said NHS England boss Simon Stevens, speaking at the WEF: “Over the next decade major health gains won’t come from a few ‘miracle cures’, but also from combining diverse breakthroughs in fields such as biosensors, medtech and drug discovery, mobile communications and AI computing.”
 
It's a worthy aim but the problem is that IoT technologies are currently largely focused on areas such as analytics, hardware and networking, but the ecosystem desperately needs to target security and standards. According to a Forrester Report:
 
"For security and risk pros, the IoT brings an enormity of additional devices to manage, new forms of vulnerability such as physical property damage, and a wide range of new technologies to master. But we found the technologies to be nascent, which is startling given how many devices are already deployed.”
 
The highly vulnerable nature of current IoT devices is also the subject of a forthcoming report by Spanish telecoms carrier Telefónica. And it’s the security of the IoT that’s likely to be one of it’s major growth areas, say the authors of the report:
 
“In five years, security will be seen as an investment, not a cost. Chief technology officers are now important members of the board. In five years, chief security officers will be the same.”
 
Speaking at the Enigma security conference in San Francisco last week, Rob Joyce, leader of the National Security Agency’s Tailored Access Operations unit (tasked with improving US government network security) said worry about the IoT keeps him up at night. He suggested that industry needed to ally itself more closely with academia, where fundamentally differenct ideas in securtiy are being generated, before the situation will improve.
 
It’s good news then that security is to be a major theme within the UK’s new £10m research hub, IoTUK.
 
But the bottom line is that, we’re still a long way from achieving the practical benefit that the IoT promises. Testbeds are part of the way forward, but they need to be allied with robust security measures. Security will need a lot of work before there can be broad deployment.
 
A Security Thematic Research Day  - bringing SMEs together with researchers from the nine universities within the IoTUK research hub - takes place on 1st March, 2016
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