Lately the news media has been stirring up concern over yet another computer security issue. This time, the culprit is the spread of embedded technology – the computer technology in your car or in your home security systems. Is this an over-hyped issue, or should savvy consumers take note and recognize the potential dangers stemming from the proliferation of networked technology? Here’s what’s under consideration.
The Internet of Things
The much ballyhooed “Internet of Things” (IoT) means that we will have at our disposal a world of networked computers linking our TVs, cars, mobile devices, home security systems and a variety of household appliances. The payoff is efficiency and convenience, but the fly in the ointment – cybersecurity problems – might prove more costly than convenient. Various consumer watchdogs have already pointed out that certain models of cars contain technology that can be accessed by cybercrooks to disable their brakes or steering. Thieves have also found ways to crack into data systems that control remote car key fobs. This might sound like a plotline featured in a spy movie, but unfortunately it’s not. As we come to rely more and more on embedded technology, we provide hackers and cyberthieves with more ways to steal our belongings and our identities, and to misappropriate data to create costly mischief. Cyberthieves are just as creative as the software pros who create embedded technology.
There is no easy fix, but industry commentators are urging companies involved in making these cyber-activated products to learn from the errors of the computer and software giants that came of age in the 1990s. Traditionally, cybersecurity has always lagged behind the innovation of the crooks it aims to catch. In the past, cybersecurity has been reactive rather than proactive: Products and services were released with security as somewhat of an afterthought. The Internet of Things provides us with the opportunity to address cybercrime at the front end of the product development cycle.
A further issue is the lack of transparency and openness of manufacturers involved in this new era. A head in the sand approach will cost companies and consumers dearly. Companies like owners to show them how to keep the software in their vehicles up to date and patched when security issues are identified. Consumers should be taught how to password protect systems embedded in their homes and autos. When consumers buy a new vehicle or goods with embedded technology, they need basic information on the embedded technology and instructions on who to contact in the event of a security breach. Honest communication and willingness to take responsibility for cybersecurity is vital amongst both software developers and the companies who oversee the manufacture of today’s range of embedded products.