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Science Fiction Technologies, Real Cybersecurity Problems Protecting the Internet of Things (IoT)

Tue, 26 Mar 2019

When I was a kid, I liked science fiction. I think many people working in the technology industry now were drawn to sci-fi in their youth because of the technological possibilities that it presented. I imagined living in 2062 Orbit City like the Jetson’s with a robot vacuum, video calling, three-day work weeks, and flying cars. While I’m still waiting for the shortened work week and the flying cars, the robot vacuum and video chats have been widely adopted.

While The Jetson’s didn’t show the downside to the futuristic technologies, the classic sci-fi writers, like Bradbury, Orwell, and Clarke showed us both the potential and the perils of what future technologies would usher in.

On some deep level, those creators of futuristic worlds not only captured my imagination but inspired me to pursue cybersecurity and protect the technologies that would shape our world. Like the classic sci-fi writers, I see future's technological possibilities, but I also see the evolving threat landscape that machine learning and the IoT brings with it. With technological adoption, the morals of many sci-fi stories ring true, with all of the good technology can do for the world; if it is left unsecured, it can also do considerable damage.

I’ve been working in cybersecurity at ISA for over 20-years, and in the technology industry for longer than that. My dedication to ISA comes from a strong belief in the services that we offer. I think that ML and IoT technologies will do amazing things for the future of humanity, from helping with healthcare shortages to democratizing education in developing worlds to applying smart agriculture technologies to lessen food shortages; and yes, hopefully someday smart technologies will help to give us the three-day work week that George Jetson had. However, we need to be diligent in securing those technologies.

The IoT of then and now

If you haven’t read Ray Bradbury's short story, There Will Come Soft Rains, you should. It's eerie for many reasons. Although written in 1950, the technology that Bradbury imagines, the smart home that he depicts, is uncannily accurate by today’s standards.

Bradbury had a voice assistant waking up the household. Bradbury’s imagined Siri or Alexa gave reminders and updated the family on the weather, making appropriate clothing suggestions. In Bradbury’s IoT connected smart home the house doors open automatically by recognizing the family dog, favourite poetry is recited at precisely 9:05 pm from speakers in the walls, moving graphics come on in the nursery at nap time, robot mice clean the floor, automatic appliances on timers prepare food, and automatic sprinklers care for the lawn and garden. The smart home does all of this without human commands, because, sadly, in this story, the smart home has outlasted its inhabitants. Almost 70 years ago, Bradbury predicted what we know today as an IoT connected smart home. 

Now, thanks to inexpensive processors and wireless networks, the IoT is flourishing in both homes and industries. By the end of 2019, Gartner predicts that there will be 14.2 billion connected things. That number will jump to 25 billion by 2021.[i] Business Insider Intelligence predicts that by 2025, 64 Billion IoT devices will be installed and that the IoT market revenue is on pace to grow to over $3 trillion annually by 2026.[ii] A Forbes Insights survey of 700 executives showed that 60% of enterprises are using IoT to expand or transform new business lines. The study also stated that 63% of enterprises are already bringing new or updated services to customers through their IoT business applications.[iii] 

The Internet of Things creates an extensive system of information, comprised of smaller systems of information; smart devices are connected to smart home or business systems which are connected to smart city systems. Significant changes come when data from one end of a large system of systems, to the other end of a large system, can be analyzed using machine learning. Through the mass sharing and analysis of information from IoT devices, an extensive network of data is created that benefits and betters all user experiences.  

The Internet of Things leads to better healthcare outcomes, more efficient manufacturing, optimizing energy production and consumption, more effective use of natural resources and lowered waste production in addition to a host of other benefits. At the root of all this is vast amounts of data being shared between devices. This much data, spread across numerous remote devices, presents a formidable cybersecurity challenge.

Securing the IoT 

Science fiction writers, like Bradbury, imagine technology of the future; but the IoT is no longer the future. IoT presents a real problem, right now, and with the rate of connected devices set to almost double in the next two years, the problem is only going to get worse. IoT devices aren’t designed with security in mind. So, until adequate security measures are embedded in the devices, they will continue to be exceedingly vulnerable to hacking and some of the hardest technology to protect. Cybersecurity on IoT devices is obscure to users. You can’t secure most IoT devices, themselves, aftermarket. You can't even log onto most of them. Users just have to trust that these devices are secure. 

Until better security measures are built into IoT devices, you need to ensure that your network perimeter is secure and that threat actors can’t get past your cybersecurity measures. Practicing good cybersecurity hygiene in an IoT environment is of increased importance. Some areas require special consideration when securing IoT devices for your organization. Too often cybersecurity is managed in a centralized, siloed manner. IoT is widely distributed and networked. Therefore, your cybersecurity approach needs to be distributed with intelligence shared between networks, devices and users. You also need to understand how your IoT devices will react to a threat or breach, because, like a science fiction writer, I foresee the inevitable and it’s best to prepare for when the real thing occurs. The security specialists at ISA can help you better understand your threat landscape and mitigate as much risk as possible

Follow me, Kevin Dawson - CEO of ISA, on LinkedIn for cybersecurity topics that I'm passionate about. 



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