The Internet of Things is scary

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Beware of The Internet of Things

It’s happening now

If you’ve watched TV lately chances are you have seen those “Internet of Things” commercials.  Really cool idea and one my friend, Robert and I discussed back around 1999.  We predicted TVs, lamps, refrigerators, etc… all connected to and controlled over the Internet.

It may have taken a 15 years but it looks like our prediction has come true.

For the record, I admit that this wasn’t a real stretch of the imagination and I am sure a lot of people thought the same thing, but they don’t write for this blog.

Am I happy?

Kind of.  I mean, come on!  Who hasn’t left home and wondered “did I turn off the stove?”  Well, soon you will be able to not just check to see if you did, but also turn it off remotely with an app.  How awesome is that?

But all that awesomeness comes with some risk.

Fast, cheap and easy

Manufacturers live by three drivers.  Make it fast, make it cheap and make it easy to use.  These drivers have served them well.  Devices for the Internet of Things, however, will require strong security and my bet is that it will be a while before manufacturers will properly address this.

Why?  Because it will slow down delivery, it will cost more money and it will make the devices a little less easy to use.

Think back, if you will, to the late 90s.  Everyone wanted to get on the Internet and manufacturers were eager to capitalize on that.  Hardware and software vendors alike rushed to get product out the door.

It wasn’t long before we found out how insecure all that mess was.  Browser exploits, viruses, identity theft, sniffing WI-FI packets out of the air… more insecurity than a teenager.  And while there have been big strides in security we are still faced with many of these same problems.  And with every new technology that gets introduced (think smartphones) there are always flaws that make them vulnerable.

HP recently did a study that showed 70 percent of the most commonly used Internet of Things (IoT) devices contain vulnerabilities including password security, encryption and personal data issues.

So if the “Internet of things” takes off like everyone thinks it will (Gartner predicts 26 billion devices by 2020), we are going to face a whole new set of security issues.

So what if my lamp isn’t secure?

Fair enough.  But recently I saw someone demonstrate a hack into an Internet of Things power strip that controlled 4 lamps.  Using the hack he was able to turn the power strip on and off 100 times per second.  That was pretty interesting.

More interesting was learning that light bulbs tend to explode when you do that.

Sure, that’s a pretty basic example of what an Internet of Things “thing” can do if not properly secured but I admit it’s not very scary.  I mean, a house fire is scary but what is really scary are the “things” that we won’t think about until after the fact.  You know… when it’s too late.

Did you know, for instance, there are websites that list unsecured web cameras?  Many of them are used at store registers where clerks handle credit cards.  And since they are HD cameras it’s not hard to capture credit card information by viewing a still frame.

And what about the new Internet of Things thermostats?  Imagine some kid down the street hacking into that and turning the heat off in winter.

It’s what we don’t know… what we don’t predict… that should be of concern.

As long as there is money to be made by hacking into connected devices there will be plenty of people trying.  So maybe “scary” is a bit strong.  But it is certainly something to be aware of.

In any event, things are going to be interesting over the next few years.

What’s YOUR impression of the “Internet of Things”?  Let me know in the comments.

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I play with computers for a living and I'm from New Jersey. Jealous?

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