Behind the brave new exciting world of the Internet of Things (IoT) lurks a dark cloud we cannot yet comprehend. What lies in store may well change the current marketing hype around IoT into consumer despair.
It all stems around the basic premise that all things IoT are connected to the internet and, let’s face it, anything connected to the internet is exposed and ‘hackable.’ Not a day goes by that we do not hear of another major cyber security breach of sites that were previously considered impenetrable.
Personal and home IoT products are going to be controlled either by apps on smartphones or by home management systems. There are no dominant prevailing standards yet agreed so it is likely that a mish-mash of controls will be in place initially.
Smartphones are already being compromised by rogue apps that transmit data back to servers for any number of legal and not so legal purposes. It can therefore be presumed that IoT data being processed by those devices could also be accessed and extracted.
We are hearing now of ‘ransomware’ implanted into PCs, tablets and smartphones that give perpetrators the ability to glean personal information about the owner and then use that to blackmail them into paying ‘protection money.’ It can be likened to the extortion tactics once used by the mafia – but now in digital format where the criminals are protected by anonymity.
Just as quickly as security software companies discover and close one open door, the fraudsters, hackers and digital criminals open another. This will be a continuous and ceaseless battle because most of us either won’t know it is happening or won’t know what do about when it does happen.
It’s one thing for financial information to be compromised but it’s a whole new ball game when our most personal information from wearables, medical monitoring devices and even home appliances falls into the wrong hands.
Some horrifying examples might be information that you are suffering from a disorder that may cost you your job if your company finds out. Or you use a competitor’s products in your own home despite your employer presuming you are loyal to the company’s. Or your elderly parents may have medication administered by an IoT device or have access to an emergency warning system if something happens to them.
In each scenario, the blackmailer armed with such info could threaten to report you to your employer or threaten to switch of the very systems keeping your relatives alive. Heaven forbid if you are having an affair – your location information could be a potent extortion tool if revealed to your spouse.
And how far-fetched was that episode of Homeland where Vice-president Walden was killed off when his pacemaker was ‘controlled’ externally. The mind boggles, but none of this is either inconceivable or impossible.
Things are not much safer in the home. Hackers could perceivably gain access via the home management systems being sold today and unlock doors, de-activate security systems, control lights and appliances, turn up the heat, you name it. Can you imagine being held to ransom in your own locked home or coming back to your secure fortress to find it stripped bare and the video surveillance tapes wiped clean?
And we already know about the potential horrors of connected cars being breached. Imagine driving down a German autobahn at 200kph and receiving a message over the radio that your very expensive car is about to veer off the road unless you agree to the terms of some blackmailing hacker. Or, worse still, you are told to pull over and get out only to see your self-driving car drive away and, presumably, go to its new criminal owner who has managed to turn off its location device.
All these scenarios are possible now and highlight the fact that we often pursue new technology objectives, usually for commercial reasons, without carefully considering the ramifications of foul play.
Let’s hope sanity prevails and the same companies that are rushing into the IoT space give adequate time and investment to securing and protecting the very same customers whose lives they are trying make better.