The Need for a Unified Network to Support Federal IoT Initiatives

When considering the federal Internet of Things (IoT) market, you’re looking at sensors with an extremely wide range of capabilities, network requirements and power needs.

The market tends to be fragmented into distinct segments, each with its own network architecture, associated devices, and applications. This approach is often confusing and does not offer agencies the true benefits that IoT offers. In fact, one of the only constants about federal IoT is that if you were to ask 100 different people what the term meant to them, you would receive 100 different answers.

A clear convergence, however, is beginning to appear where the networks that run various IoT applications are starting to operate more universally. Not only does this unification simplify the roster of devices on any given network, it also helps to keep them more secure. Leveraging the security of existing enterprise deployed, federally certified networks rather than smaller, uncoordinated hubs greatly reduces the size of the attack surface.

Recently, I participated in a virtual panel discussion via Federal News Network where we talked about agencies’ various IoT projects, general IoT use cases, and approaches for enhancing cybersecurity.

IoT and Infrastructure Planning

Kurt Steege, Chief Technology Officer, ThunderCat Technology, also participated in the discussion and pointed out that the processing portion of IoT is very interesting right now, because we are starting to see smaller processing over time that can feed different Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) engines. However, capitalizing on that potential requires careful infrastructure planning. “Infrastructure planning is going to be important in how you’re going to drive power and comms together...because the convergence of that is critical to how we make that work,” Steege said.

With that said, there is no singular, cut and dry approach to infrastructure planning when it comes to IoT since it is used in so many different capacities and unique environments. The same solution that works for maintaining the sensors on saltwater buoys for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, for example, will not provide any benefit in the austere desert environments where many military IoT devices are housed.

As such, Steege emphasized the importance of individualized and detailed planning with IoT vendors, to ensure that solutions are customized to both the mission at hand and the setting.

Cybersecurity Concerns

As multiple data types and network connection types converge, it is crucial to pay dedicated attention to cybersecurity and create a comprehensive approach to it. Chris Thomas, Technology Strategist, Dell Technologies was another participant on the panel discussion, and he had some suggestions to share from the cybersecurity standpoint. “One way to ensure cybersecurity is through macro- or micro segmentation of your networks,” he said. “Segmentation, visibility, and analytics [and] having a gateway that can manage or give you visibility across multiple communication paths, that becomes essential.”

Along with segmentation, Thomas also emphasized the importance of analytics in monitoring IoT network activity. In the same way that analytical components can hone in on unusual activity among users, it can do so for IoT devices. Thomas uses what he refers to as an “IoT Controller” to aggregate that data; “it gives me that centralized point to aggregate that data and analytics, and then I can use that to a point to feed…whatever SIEM management tool you may have.”


While IoT may be a nebulous concept, its potential to change the way government agencies, private businesses, and even civilians’ lives operate is incalculable. During his portion of the panel discussion, Steege mentioned a survey performed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) roughly a year ago, which revealed that out of 90 agencies surveyed, roughly 60 of them were already using some form of IoT in their day-to-day operations.

IoT is on the rise, and this panel only began to scratch the surface of what it’s capable of providing to federal agencies. Take a few minutes to listen and learn more from the complete conversation, which you can click here to do.