A concept that gets us very excited is the so-called "Internet of things." After all, who wouldn't be excited about the prospect of living in a world configured like a "Jetsons" episode?
The idea, in a nutshell, is that digital connectivity should allow us to operate our total physical environment from any online device. We'll be able to do everything from monitoring railroad hardware to watering the office plants, from any location, with nothing more than a smartphone. The Internet will run our world: or rather, we'll run it, digitally and remotely, via the Web.
Thrilling, right? But, as ever, technology threatens to get way ahead of security. Sure, there are practical problems, too. Monitoring processes on a single factory floor, for example, is easy and economical compared with attempting to monitor wear and tear on tens of thousands of miles of railtrack, and the hundreds of trains that run on it.
The security implications, however, may be an even bigger obstacle to realizing a comprehensive digital environment. Almost by definition, if it's online, it's hackable. There have already been incidents of hackers gaining access to transit networks, such as the exploit last August, which compromised the VPN of a "major international airport."
In a sense, this is familiar stuff. But how about more focused attacks? Vanity Fair sent a shiver down the spine last month by speculating on how smartphones could be used to interfere with automobiles, private residences, and medical devices. The smarter your care, your home, or your medical device is, the more readily it might lend itself to hacking.
Murder by pacemaker? Implanted medical devices already transmit data about heart function to service centers via cellphone connections. But their performance can also be remotely managed, as demonstrated by a researcher at a conference in Australia last October. Barnaby Jack showed how to deliver an electric shock to a hacked pacemaker.
Imagine, too, the opportunities to interfere with a robo-car. Program your destination, sit back and relax, and hope that a targeted hack doesn't send you off a cliff.
There are rich pickings here for screenwriters, but if connectivity is going to bring big changes -- and potential benefits -- to our everyday lives, we're going to have to figure out how to save these nightmares for the movies.
— Kim Davis , Community Editor, Internet Evolution