The 10 Top IoT News Stories Of 2020

Private equity sales, vendors pushing pause on facial recognition and a massive semiconductor acquisition deal were among this year’s largest news stories in the IoT market.

Big Developments Across The IoT Landscape

The coronavirus pandemic may have taken an economic toll on the IoT market this year, but 2020 still saw several significant developments in the space, including big acquisitions, large funding rounds and other events that will leave a mark on the way people think about IoT devices and applications.

This year’s biggest IoT news stories included an acquisition and a new platform launch by Microsoft’s Azure Division, a massive funding round for an IoT startup, two IoT security vendors being sold to private equity firms, vendors pushing pause on facial recognition software, a new IoT security bill being signed into law and a massive semiconductor acquisition that could shake up the entire industry.

[Related: The 10 Coolest IoT Startups Of 2020]

What follows are the 10 top IoT news stories of 2020.

Get more of CRN’s 2020 tech year in review.

10. Microsoft Launches Azure Sphere To Secure IoT Devices

Microsoft expanded its IoT ambitions with the launch of its Azure Sphere solution that aims to secure a pervasive class of power-constrained connected devices controlled by microcontroller units. The Redmond, Wash.-based company announced the general availability of Azure Sphere in February, saying that it would consist of three technology components: Azure-certified MCU chips that go into every device and provides a hardware root of trust among other advanced security measures, the Linux-based Azure Sphere operating system that will be continually upgraded with new protections and the cloud-based Azure Sphere Security Service that monitors for threats and brokers device communication.

9. Microsoft Acquires CyberX For A Reported $165M

In another sign of Microsoft‘s interest in expanding beyond traditional IT, the company in June confirmed that it has acquired industrial IoT security startup CyberX, with reports pegging the deal‘s value at approximately $165 million. The Waltham, Mass.-based company was founded in 2013 and provides continuous monitoring and vulnerability management for industrial control systems. CyberX counts two of the top five U.S. energy providers, a top five global pharmaceutical company, a top five U.S. chemical company, and national electric and gas utility providers across Europe and Asia-Pacific among its base of customers. Microsoft has made a handful of pure-play security buys over the years, adding security orchestration and automation provider Hexadite in June 2017 for a reported $100 million to help companies investigate and respond to alerts.

8. Samsara Raises $400M Round At A Reported $5.4B Valuation

Industrial IoT startup Samsara raised a $400 million funding round in May that brought its valuation to $5.4 billion, according to Bloomberg, making it the largest IoT startup funding deal in 2020. The new round, which gave the company roughly $600 million of cash on-hand at the time of funding, included new investors General Atlantic and Warburg Pincus as well as existing investors Andreessen Horowitz and General Catalyst Partners, among others. Sanjit Biswas, CEO and co-founder of Samara, said the new funding would help the company continue to invest in its sensor data platform for connected operations that combines advanced cameras and sensors with software. At the same time, however, he said that the company had to lay off 18 percent of its workforce, or 300 people, due to economic turbulence caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

7. Insight Partners Buys IoT Security Startup Armis

Armis, one of the hottest IoT security startups over the last few years, was acquired by private equity firm Insight Partners in a deal worth $1.1 billion in January. The deal, which included a $100 million investment from Google-backed venture capital fund CapitalG, came after the Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup had raised $112 million across four funding rounds since it was founded in 2015. At the time of the announcement, Armis said that it would continue to operate independently under its existing executive team and that the deal will strengthen its position in the market for device behavior tracking and incident response software.

6. Forescout Goes Private, Gets New CEO

Forescout, a major provider of IoT security software, went private and gained a new CEO with its $1.4 billion sale to private equity firm Advent International in August. As part of the acquisition, former Symantec CEO Greg Clark became the company’s new chief executive in October, taking over from longtime company leader Mike DeCesare. The deal, which put an end to Forescout’s life as a publicly traded company after less than three years, was contentious, with both Forescout and Advent suing each other before agreeing to put aside their differences. However, the deal to buy Forescout ended up being less than the originally proposed price tag of $1.9 billion when it was first announced.

5. Vendors Push Pause On Facial Recognition

Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and IBM halted sales of facial recognition software to police departments, or altogether in the case of the latter, in June over concerns that the technology, a major use case for IoT, can be used for mass surveillance, racial profiling and violating human rights. The concerns, while long held by activists and groups like the America Civil Liberties Union, were reignited in the midst of nationwide protests calling for police reform or abolition and justice for black people, including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, whose deaths “remind us that the fight against racism is as urgent as ever,” IBM CEO Arvind Krishna said when announcing that the company would permanently stop selling facial recognition software. Microsoft, on the other hand, said it would halt sales of facial recognition software to police departments until federal regulations are put in place. Meanwhile, AWS said it would ban the use of such technology by police for one year in the hope that federal regulations will be passed.

4. Trump Signs IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act Into Law

President Donald Trump signed a bill into law in December that requires IoT devices purchased by federal government entities to satisfy minimum security requirements. The IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act requires the National Institute of Standards and Technology to set minimum security requirements for IoT devices as well as other standards and guidelines on the use and management of such devices. It also requires federal agencies to only use IoT devices that meet such standards. In addition, contractors providing IoT devices to the U.S. government need to implement coordinated vulnerability disclosures, guidelines for which will be developed by NIST.

3. Ripple20 Vulnerabilities Have Wide Impact On IoT Devices

Researchers uncovered a set of new vulnerabilities, collectively referred to as Ripple20, that is estimated to impact hundreds of millions of IoT devices. The 19 vulnerabilities, uncovered by Israeli consulting firm JSOF, impact a low-level TCP/IP software library developed by Treck Inc. that can allow hackers to gain access from outside a network and hide malicious code on devices to steal data or change the device‘s behavior. The firm said Ripple20 impacts devices made by a wide range of vendors, including HP, Schneider Electric, Rockwell Automation, Caterpillar and Intel.

2. Vendors, Solution Providers Turn To IoT To Deal With COVID-19

While spending on IoT solutions took a hit in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, 47 percent of companies still plan to increase their investments in IoT, with many looking at using IoT applications to deal with issues related to COVID-19 and future health concerns, according to a Gartner survey of 402 respondents published in October. Many vendors and solution providers have pivoted to offer solutions for things like mask detection, social distance enforcement, temperature scanning and contact tracing, most of which require IoT software and hardware to operate. “Before March of this year, we wouldn’t have thought anything about going to work and watching the guy in the other cubicle sneezing his nose off or the gal sitting down the hall coughing and wheezing. And we’re like, man, I hope I don’t get sick,” Luis Alvarez, CEO of Salinas, Calif.-based Alvarez Technology Group, told CRN earlier this year. “Now I don’t think that will ever happen again.”

1. Nvidia Announces Plan To Buy Arm For $40B

A major provider of silicon designs for IoT processors is set to gain a new owner with Arm’s planned $40 billion sale to GPU maker Nvidia — a deal announced in September that will likely have major consequences for the semiconductor industry and the IoT market. Since 2016, Arm has been owned by Japan-based SoftBank Group, which acquired the British chip designer for $32 billion with the hope of growing its influence in the IoT market. Nvidia has been ramping up its investments in silicon products and systems for IoT and edge computing applications, with platforms like EGX and processors like the Jetson Xavier NX. However, the future is up in the air for Arm’s IoT Services Group, which consists of Treasure Data for data analytics; Pelion for device management; and Kigen for eSIM management. For now, Arm turned Pelion into an independent, wholly-owned subsidiary of the company. Meanwhile, the Stacey on IoT newsletter reported that Arm has hired Citibank for a potential sale of Treasure Data while no such actions have been taken for Kigen.