Critical aspect of the 4th industrial revolution?
As the number of potential vulnerabilities increases, we must treat virtual security the same way as physical security, says Martin Walshaw
You haven’t been feeling well this week. You make an appointment with your doctor, who’s actually a computer that assesses you and writes a prescription for flu medication. You take the prescription to your pharmacist, also a computer that quickly dispenses the drugs. The whole process takes 20 minutes and soon you’re recovering in bed.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) expects the Internet of Things (IoT) to eliminate more than 50 million jobs in the next five years as technology automates more day-to-day tasks. They’re calling it the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is characterised by a fusion of technology that blurs the line between the physical and digital spheres.
While automation makes life easier in many areas – like not having to wait an hour to see your doctor – it also presents a number of risks.
Privacy vs convenience
Privacy is becoming a luxury for consumers. We use more and more gadgets to monitor our fitness levels, automate our homes, and replace everything from cash to ID cards. More data is being collected about us than ever before. Servers in the cloud know who we are and who we communicate with and are familiar with our habits. The scary thing is that we don’t know who is accessing this information or what they’re doing with it.
When it comes to business, every single industry will be affected. The IoT will give rise to entirely new systems of production, management and customer service. Competition will increase; new revenue streams will open up as others slam shut. To survive, businesses will offer more services through convenient web applications, which, if not secured properly, could provide an access point into the infrastructure for cybercriminals.
These unsecured networks and this unprotected data can be used for nefarious purposes. Take the computerised pharmacist as an example.
The pharmacy recently activated an application on its website that allows patients to order their medication online. However, the application was not properly secured, allowing a hacker to gain access to the network and compromise all prescriptions. Rather than dispensing paracetamol, the pharmacist gives you penicillin, which you’re allergic to.
By automating more processes, we’re placing our trust in devices and software to do the right thing. This makes security a critical element of the IoT. In recent analysis by McKinsey, it was found that current technology could automate up to 95% of the work of doctors, nurses, paramedics, anesthetists, aerospace engineers and hundreds of others. Imagine the catastrophic outcomes if any of these systems were to be hacked.
Don’t learn safety by accident
We’re all responsible for security. In general, we are all fairly security conscious in our daily lives.
We install burglar bars and alarm systems to protect our houses; we lock our cars after we park them.
Yet, when it comes to our smartphones – arguably the most critical gadgets we own considering the amount of personal information stored on them – security is an afterthought. We don’t think twice about granting applications access to personal information, even if it doesn’t make sense for them to do so – why does a photo editing app need access to our microphone, for example? Often, our devices do not have security software installed and we don’t protect the devices with passwords.