TREND WATCH Internet of Things Poses HR Challenges

As more everyday devices connect, the potential for security risks grows.

By Jen Schramm Sep 24, 2014


1014-Cover.jpgToday, sensors and other embedded devices are ubiquitous: They are used to track the transportation route of packages, to transmit data from implanted medical devices and to control household appliances from smartphone apps. And all of these devices have the capacity to send and receive data through the Internet. Technology experts refer to this rapidly expanding global nervous system as “the Internet of Things”—and it is likely to revolutionize the way work is done across industries.

Its implications for HR are great. The Internet of Things, or IoT, will influence the way data about workers and work processes are collected, analyzed and used. It will affect recruiting and benefits administration as well as employee safety and disaster planning.

Unfortunately, because so many devices can connect in ways never before possible, the IoT is also susceptible to


Proportion of most commonly used Internet of Things devices that contain serious vulnerabilities

malfunction and hacking. In July 2014, Hewlett-Packard’s Fortify on Demand application security testing service released its Internet of Things State of the Union Study. It showed that 70 percent of the most commonly used IoT devices contain serious vulnerabilities; the most common were related to privacy, authorizations, Web interfaces, software protections and transport encryption.

Some of the consequences of such vulnerabilities could be extremely serious, and few industries are immune. Wired magazine reported earlier this year that hackers could remotely gain control of medical devices such as drug infusion pumps or heart defibrillators and even take down critical hospital and lab equipment during emergencies. Electronic door locks and security systems connected to the Internet are also susceptible to attack, as are factory equipment, transportation equipment and communications devices.

Since IoT data breaches have grave implications for workers and the public, HR professionals need to work closely with their IT teams to uncover and protect against vulnerabilities within their organizations’ IoT devices,


Average number of vulnerabilities in Internet of Things devices

including those used to manage work processes and in HR technologies. For HR, a key issue is how to ensure that private employee data is kept secure—and, conversely, that confidential employer information doesn’t walk out the door with employees. In some cases, HR may need to create specific policies regarding the use of devices, particularly smartphones.

The IoT represents another way “big data” will shape the HR profession in the years ahead. But new opportunities bring new risks, so HR professionals must balance the benefits that IoT devices bring to the workplace with their need to safeguard data and protect their customers and employees.

Jen Schramm is manager of the Workforce Trends program at SHRM.

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