By: Tim Sparapani
Some horrifying stories surfaced recently about glaring data security vulnerabilities for the Internet of Things. A company called Shodan, which is a search engine for connected devices, has had no trouble pulling up video camera feeds of sleeping babies, marijuana plants and schoolrooms. The site found insecure connections for everything from traffic lights to ice rinks. Those gaps are a hacker’s playground, and they should worry consumers and companies hoping to capitalize on the market for Internet-connected devices of all kinds.
By collecting data from things like lightbulbs, factories and home appliances, engineers will be able to design endless apps to make things work more efficiently, saving energy and water while preventing equipment failure. That’s the essential promise of the Internet of Things (IoT) era. Thanks to the burgeoning IoT economy, we’re on the verge of having self-driving cars and appliances that tell us that their parts are about to fail.
But right now, that bright future looks a little dim. Security is paramount, and if manufacturers don’t take steps to assure the public that their devices are secure, that revolution will be delayed.
Perhaps because IoT devices are to date opaque — after all, there’s no interface for a lightbulb with sensors embedded in it — consumers haven’t been overly concerned about safety issues. Since this is still a relatively new industry, things like price and convenience have taken priority. We are in a type of technology limbo where we are learning that securing the data collected by these devices is essential, yet too few manufacturers have implemented robust data security protections for these devices.
But it will take just a few high-profile hacks to change that. Say, for example, all of the traffic lights in a big city suddenly went red at the same time and stayed that way. Or all of the lightbulbs linked to a given system went on in the middle of the night. An event like that would be enough to potentially scare people away from the IoT.