IoT: Utopia or anarchy?

Lachlan Colquhoun
Security Insights

Another day, another headline about a cybersecurity breach.

What is it today? Another claim about Russians interfering the US 2016 Presidential election? Or perhaps it’s about Trump Hotels, which recently paid a $50,000 penalty after fraudulent charges were made on customers’ credit cards-and has been subject to frequent attacks ever since.  

Or closer to home in Asia, it could be a story about a computer studies dropout in India being held over the breaches at mobile operator Reliance Jio, after customer data was leaked onto an independent website.

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On any given day, the stories about cybersecurity breaches are likely to be placed next to stories about the advent of 5G networks and the IoT. The digital future will be a new wonderland to wander-just be sure to watch your purses and wallets, for there are nimble-fingered thieves wandering too.

Industrial Revolution 4.0  

These stories tell us that the world is in preparation for the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” when unprecedented connection speeds and capacity will combine with machine learning to create a brave new world of automation, robotics, smart cities and smart houses.  

The number of devices forecast to be connected to the internet by 2020 varies from Gartner’s 20 billion estimate to Ericsson’s 28 billion. Other estimates run as high as 50 billion. Regardless, it’s going to be an exponential increase from the seven billion or so currently connected.   

There’s a problem with the IoT revolution, however: those stories about cybersecurity breaches are directly related to the ones about the IoT and 5G.  

If we don’t get the security protocols right, the Fourth Industrial Revolution could deliver anarchy rather than utopia. It used to be that if somebody robbed a house or a building, windows would be smashed and physical evidence left behind. Today, theft is increasingly invisible, and the stolen assets are virtual.  

Online criminals continually evolve, and this is where the new battles with law enforcement and security agencies are being fought. So are we getting ahead of ourselves in our enthusiasm for the IoT, and rushing ahead and not paying sufficient attention to how vulnerable we are? 

Productivity versus chaos  

As Mark McLaughlin, the chief executive of Palo Alto Networks, puts it, the digital world is unique in that there is a “fine line” between productivity and chaos, and that “trust” is the issue which will determine success and failure in the digital future.

“We are walking that line every day of the week,” McLaughlin says. “The very technologies that deliver this productivity are the ones that can take it down as well.” For example, the code which turned CCTV cameras into participants in the Mirai botnet attack last year.  

In this next generation technology world, the virtual will have control over the physical world. Take the example of key utility infrastructure, such as power and water.  

In the US last year, the control system of a dam in New York State was taken over by an unknown group who simply wanted to demonstrate they could accomplish the feat. They left the potential consequences to the imagination.  

In response, many utilities are upgrading their networks. Nokia recently signed a deal to provide advanced communications to the Placer County Water Agency (PCWA) in northern California to support its hydroelectric power generation and water distribution operations.

Nokia is replacing PWCA’s aging communications infrastructure with a modern Internet Protocol/Multi-protocol Label Switching and packet microwave network to support a range of critical applications. Critical to the Nokia Network Services Platform are routers and packet technologies which are designed around security, reliability and resiliency.  

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