If you happened to be driving around San Fran’s motorways earlier this summer, you might have seen the DHS signs warning drivers to prepare for an impending Godzilla Attack. Or maybe you caught the signs warning of a zombie attack in Montana early last year. And you must remember the #groundzeroattack reported by a hacked NBC Twitter feed.
Even baby monitors aren’t safe. “Wake up, you little slut,” a hacker screamed to a two-year-old in Houston. Another hacker yelled obscenities at a 10 month old in Ohio. Both families were using internet-connected baby monitors manufactured by Foscam (China-based). It was soon discovered that anyone could sign into any Foscam monitor with the password “admin” … d’oh! While these may have been mindless pranks, they might also be a sign of things to come. According to security experits, it’s ridiculously easy to hack those road signs. Imagine if the #groundzeroattack were a news story warning of a terrorist attack on New York causing mass panic? What if a hacker hit the kill switch on a fleet of connected trucks? Nasty thoughts, but not ones of science fiction.
For those unfamiliar with IoT, it’s important to know that it’s not just another version of the internet. IoT connects everything through a unified system across the globe: cars talk to streetlights, phones talk to stores, and so on. IoT security needs to be even stronger than what exists for the internet. While security breaches for the latter are rare, the consequences for IoT could be much more serious than the leaking of Facebook passwords (truly sorry about those awkward Hello Kitty posts last year).
The idea of a smart home or a self-driving car sounds pretty enticing. But thanks to half baked, there are some glaring problems that need to be addressed before it’s ready for mass public adoption:
1. SYSTEM SHUT DOWN: In order to shut your air conditioner off or control your oven on the way home, IoT is currently using wireless 4G to communicate. But wireless can fail. It’s frustrating enough to have to stick a pen tip in the reset hole to continue watching TV or surfing the web. But how much more frustrating would it be for your whole house to suddenly shut down: Google and Apple are both focusing heavily on smart IoT and the big fear is that these giants will corner the market and “divide it between two separate and incompatible technologies.” We definitely do not need another Windows/Mac battle. The UK’s recent release of HyperCat is a good step in this direction.
3. HACKER EXPLOITATION: Comcast has already started rolling out its grand scheme to piggyback a public WiFi network on the Xfinity hardware used in the homes of its customers. Even though it is supposed to be isolated from a homeowner’s WiFi, the users of the public network remain exposed to each other and could be exploited by a hacker as if they were on any public network. Sharing home routers with strangers makes us vulnerable to cybercriminals (as told to TechNewsWorld). What’s more, Context recently found a vulnerability in LiFX, a Kickstarter-funded lighting system where light bulbs are controlled by a smartphone app, where the lights could be shut off by a hacker within just 100 feet.
By 2020, there will be 50 billion connected devices in the world. IoT has a massive amount of potential to completely revolutionize our increasingly wireless lives, and the majority of US and Chinese households see the “connected home” as extremely likely in the next 5 years. But the excitement will no doubt be tempered by security concerns, which arenot limited to hackers, but to how much of their data will be collected, and, perhaps more importantly, how that data will be used.
It seems that if security can’t keep pace with IoT device development, IoT won’t make much headway.