If Gartner is correct and 4.9 billion connected things will be in use this year – with a staggering 25 billion devices set to deploy by 2020 – it may be time to set your anxiety meter to high. In recent weeks, we’ve covered the vast opportunity that IoT represents for consumers, businesses, governmental organizations, utilities – the field is enormous. We’ve also touched on IoT’s potential impact within financial services. But with that expansive opportunity may come just a wee bit of insecurity.

Think about it. Right now, financial activity generates a wealth of customer data: payment data, credit files, marketing information, account histories. But what if that data came from a far more expansive network of sources? What if each source represented an exponential rise in the level of detail?

What if each point of connection represented a vulnerability?

“Organizations must straddle the tension of all the information available from smart things by balancing their desire to collect and analyze it with the risk of its loss or misuse,” says Steve Prentice, Gartner vice president and Gartner Fellow.

(Much Much) More of the Same?

True enough. But how do we execute? For starters, financial institutions should shore up for a massive increase in data and an explosion of new devices: “Tried-and-true IT security controls that have evolved over the past 25 years can be just as effective for [the Internet of Things] – provided we can adapt them to the unique constraints of the embedded devices that will increasingly comprise networks of the future,” software company Wind River says in its white paper “Security in the Internet of Things: Lessons from the Past for the Connected Future.”

Still, there’s an unwieldiness to IoT that makes security daunting. Not only will credit unions have to knuckle down to secure their own data and systems, but they’ll have to contend with members who scatter their data far and wide on connected devices. Cases in point: Hackers have already cracked into smart refrigerators, connected cars and networked baby monitors. Staying on top of this much detail takes the security challenge from Whack-a-Mole to Whack-a-Molecule. It boggles the mind.

Gear Up and Go

Then again, what choice do financial institutions have but to keep pace? Will consumers resist ambient connectivity out of concern for their data? Unlikely, given the confidence – or lack of restraint – we’ve seen from them so far. Will innovators stop innovating until every vulnerability has been removed? Also doubtful.

Instead, it’s time to gear up and go. By the end of 2017, Gartner estimates that more than 20 percent of organizations will have digital security services devoted to protecting business initiatives using devices and services in IoT. This in response to “dozens of new platform options, hundreds of variations on hybrid IT/IoT integrations, new standards per industry, and a new view of applications,” according to Gartner.

The takeaway? Power up now:

  • Be prepared. We don’t know fully what it will take to secure IoT, or even to take an honest stab at it. We just know it’s going to take a greater effort than what we’re doing now. Prepare to be challenged.
  • Streamline your systems now. As connected devices proliferate, one way to simplify is to declutter within your organization. The fewer disconnected processes, networks and systems you manage, the better. Think seamless.
  • Get a handle on your data. The better you are at gathering, analyzing, optimizing and leveraging your data now, the better equipped you’ll be for the avalanche to come.

Finally, imagine the possibilities. Though it’s easy to get bogged down in the magnitude of change that IoT represents, don’t forget to contemplate now and then just how revolutionary it is. As our connected future takes shape, there’s no question that security will pose a major ongoing challenge for developers, financial institutions and consumers alike. But the opportunities it creates promise to be game-changing as well, if we don’t let our insecurities get the best of us.