COVID-19 has been good for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Take, for example, innovations like the self-driving cart that delivers up to 90 pounds of food to quarantined people in hospitals, malls, and apartment complexes.

“Many restaurants have to follow COVID requirements of hiring no more than 40% of their regular staff because of social distancing regulations and to eliminate infections,” said Muhammed Mubin Mallick, founder and CEO of robotics companies Mi-Robots and Kiran Smart. “So managers need assistance, and this is where industrial IoT devices come in.”

Internet-connected innovations, like the Zhen Robotics delivery robot, are predicted to drive the IIoT market from $77.3 billion USD in 2020 to $110.6 billion USD by 2025—that's a significant growth—thanks to COVID.

What is IIoT and How is it Different from IoT?

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) refers to industrial devices that are connected to wireless networks, allowing these devices to be monitored and to communicate with other devices. In contrast, Internet of Things (IoT) refers to wirelessly connected devices in a business or home environment.

Internet of Things (IIoT)

Think of your door locks, heating system, doorbell, car, TV or other consumer appliances, all of which can be controlled from your smartphone simply with a swipe, simple voice command, or some toggling with the security settings. These are all Internet of Things, where objects are connected to the digital world for regulation. (Read also: IoT in 2020: What's Next?)

Examples:

  • New Google Nest Thermostat that automates your home temperature. Nest learns what temperatures you like, turns the heat down when you’re away and can be controlled from anywhere over wi-fi. Users log onto their Nest accounts to change their thermostats, view or adjust their settings and see how much energy they use. The Nest Thermostat also gathers data from other products, including cars, fitness-trackers and even sensor equipped beds to help save energy and stay safe.

  • Baby monitoring app, Mimo. This app helps parents track their baby’s vitals in real-time, while also giving them a handy overall analytics assessment of baby’s breathing, skin temperature, sleeping activity and body position. The proprietary app generates data from the baby’s Mimo kimono to wi-fi, alerting parents to changes in their babies’ behavior.

  • Vodaphone's V-Pet Tracker Pod 3, a lightweight device that, when attached to the collar of your pet, monitors your pet's geographic location via smartphone to ensure its safety and well-being. So you can track your dog or cat when lost, and you’ll be alerted if it wanders out of comfort zones or into dangerous areas.

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

The defining difference between Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is their general usage. While IoT is most commonly used for consumer usage as well as general retail business use and related uses, IIoT is used for industrial purposes such as manufacturing, supply chain monitoring and management systems.

Major differences between IIoT and IoT are scale operations and the volume of data gathered. IIoT devices typically amass huge amounts of data in contrast to IoT devices that generate relatively far less data. A single turbine compressor blade, for example, generates more than 500 gigabytes of data per day.

In general, IIoT also may use more sensitive and precise sensors, including more location-aware technology. (Read also: Can IoT Improve Supply Chain Optimization in Health Care?)

Finally, IoT is small scale compared to IIoT that impacts billions of people across networks of industries, institutions, geographical localities, even countries.

Examples:

  • Walmart uses blockchain technology—an Internet-decentralized platform - to tag the origin of food items, as the product moves down the line. Store managers read this data to prevent foodborne illness, identify and eliminate inefficiencies in the supply chain, enhance food flow, reduce food waste, deter food fraud, and cultivate trust and transparency with stakeholders and consumers, among other items. As Frank Yiannas, then vice president of food safety and health for Walmart, pointed out in an interview, blockchain technology could tell us in real-time where food products came from, as well as inform us on their journeys.

  • Vijay Bhaskar Reddy of India created a KisanRaja app that helps more than 34,000 farmers monitor their pumps and save their agricultural fields and farms from flooding. The device includes alerts for automated weather conditions, faulty power supply, low water levels, and suspicious animal or human activities. Advanced versions add an inbuilt timer that turns the pump on and off.

“Travelling four kilometers multiple times a day to just water the fields takes a lot of time and a lot of petrol is wasted.” Gangaiah P, a farmer from Telangana’s Karimnagar district said in an interview with Better India. “One day other farmers in the area using the device told me about KisanRaja. Since I started using KisanRaja about five years back, I no longer have to go and switch on the pumps as I can do it from home.”

Other examples are restaurant and food robots that cook, deliver and serve food in places that include restaurants, malls, and hospitals, saving staff from potential infection. (In China, bed-ridden teens control these robots from their hospital beds). Chowbotics’ Sally, for instance, makes 65 salad bowls a day for institutions that include the U.S. Department of Defense.

Looking out of his window in Kuwait, Mubin Mallick told me:

“By 2050 the world will be saturated with robots, and—just like our smartphones—they’ll be everywhere. Most robots will be PAL type—humanoid and mobile... You’ll find them in your offices, banks, shopping malls, and so forth.”

Further examples: Drones to monitor oil pipelines, sensors to monitor smart factories, smart parking where drivers use apps to find available parking lots; and sensor-equipped waste and recycling stations that communicate in real-time to streamline waste management operations.

The Internet of Things is predicted to massively impact road, rail, air and sea logistics where the advent of 5G speeds up transportation of goods in each of these hubs. Look to a future of large networks of trains, ships, cars and planes, helped along by robots and drones, intercommunicating with one another in real-time to track and facilitate deliveries.

In short, IIoT is a thriving industry predicted to increase manufacturing productivity by 10 to 25% and to produce up to $1.8 trillion in global economic value by 2025. Widespread adoption of predictive maintenance technologies alone could reduce companies’ maintenance costs by 20%, reduce unplanned outages by 50% and extend machinery life by years according to management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

Issues Affecting IoT and IIoT

Both IIoT and IoT share the qualities of availability and convenience of intelligent and connected devices. Both have issues concerning data management and connectivity, data security and a secure cloud in common.

Problems reduce to security issues. All it takes is for hackers to penetrate an IT system for these invaders to bankrupt a company, hold owners hostage to blackmailing and empty customers’ accounts.

Reports show hacking has increased to 4,000 attacks a day since COVID, that hackers have become more sophisticated resisting deterrents and that even the smallest companies are today’s targets.

These criminals have targeted younger lower-level employees, manipulating them into moving money into fake accounts. Other cybercriminals scout for vulnerabilities within IT networks, penetrating systems to steal credentials. (Read also: 10 Steps to Strengthen Your IoT Security.)

Social engineering cyber crimes have become one of the leading sources of loss for billions of global businesses, with attacks occurring under various forms. All it takes is for a hacker to crack one single endpoint of the system to place hundreds of thousands of lives at risk—or even to stall an entire country.

Specific Issues with Industrial Internet of Things

When it comes to the security of IIoT, the consequences are even more significant, since IIoT potentially impacts our most critical defenses, including aerospace, healthcare and domestic security.

While IoT may be important and handy, a breakdown of our smart devices is only momentarily inconvenient. Collapse or breach of IIoT devices, on the other hand, can stall entire factories, TV networks, airports, hospitals and more.

  • Multiple component vulnerabilities - When industries built their computer systems in the 1990s they intended them for closed networks, subsequently ignoring cybersecurity concerns. In today's world where industries are interconnected and open ended, hackers grew a dime a dozen—and industry IT systems are vulnerable!

  • Insecure protocols - To deter hackers, experts recommend multi-factor authentication where the computer user provides two or more verification factors to gain access to the system. Unfortunately, industrial devices often communicate through proprieties like Modbus, Ethernet/Ip, DNP3, and PROFINET. Unfortunately, these rarely employ authentication, authorization or encryption methodologies.

  • Stalled security updates - Want to deter hackers? Upgrade your security patches. Today's viable software patches are tomorrow's weakest. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) urges users and administrators to relentlessly update their systems. Unfortunately, companies need to set aside sufficient downtime to install these time-consuming updates. In some environments, this is not only unfeasible but possibly dangerous. Think, for instance, of briefly stalling technology across 2,000 hospitals during brain surgery!

  • Lack of endpoint visibility - Hackers tend to attack endpoints, like laptops, mobiles, personal computers, and iPads, to access corporate data. There are lots of ways companies are vulnerable to those hackings, particularly when employees work remotely. As of June 2020, more than 30% of employee accounts have been compromised worldwide. When it comes to industries that are as critical and inter-connected as healthcare or aerodefense—consequences are monumental.

  • Lack of risk mitigation - There’s a divide between the Information Technology (IT) and the Operational Technology (OT) teams. While IT often knows too little on OT, OT can be as equally ignorant on up-to-date security principles. The results? Too few mitigating methods are used and those that are employed are mostly ineffective.

Conclusion

As demonstrated during the first nine months of the pandemic, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) can massively improve connectivity, efficiency, scalability, time savings and cost savings for industrial and manufacturing organizations. Companies benefit from IIoT through cost savings due to predictive maintenance, improved safety and other operational efficiencies.

According to McKinsey, the total number of connected IoT devices will reach 75 billion by 2025, with almost 30% of them installed in the industrial environment by 2023.

In the future, while Internet of Things (IoT) will continue to convenience us, industrial IoT will seamlessly regulate entire supply chains. The potential of this technology is monumental, which is why it's essential for industrial leaders to monitor how IIoT is reinventing the industry.

That’s especially important in the age of big data and as companies will soon have no choice but to rely on artificially intelligent systems to process and analyze this information. Those systems need to be 100 percent hacker-secure!