Grumpy Toasters and the Internet of Broken Things

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The latest information regarding yesterday’s massive DDOS attack that affected Twitter, Netflix, PayPal, Amazon and dozens of other major websites around the word is that it was executed through the networked devices (TVs, refrigerators, security devices, home climate devices, wearables) that are becoming more and more a part of our daily lives.

This network of individual tools is referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT) and the optimistic projections are that we will be sounded by a personal “digital mesh” which will tend to our needs and help us navigate our day-to-day lives and decisions.  Some say that this will happen within in the next 10 years.

While I’m no Luddite, I’m am a bit more cautious about the speed of this massive change in our lives.  

Along with advances in Big Data, augmented/virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and robotics, the Internet of Things is also opening up new opportunities for things to go wrong.  As Mike Caulfield points out in this blog post, there are major security issues that we’re just beginning to understand.  Let alone build defenses against.

He also mentions issues around business models and ongoing service and support:

But what happens two years down the road after buyouts and mergers? What happens when the free-for-life service that connects or manages your scale or mood lighting or runs your boiler is sold to a company that wants to re-monetize the service? Or shut it down without notice?

Throughout time, the introduction of an innovation has always included opportunities for scams.  There were telegraph scams, phone scams, and fax scams.  Innovations in the early stages of their adoption across society have always had service interruptions and quality issues. New users enamored by what the new tool can do, often don’t immediately understand the risks they need to look out for.   Service providers and regulators are mostly reactive to threats.  Scammers are really bright folks who take advantage in this lag between in introduction of an innovation and the moment when consumers, providers, and government “lock down” tools and close security loopholes.

That IoT is experiencing similar issues isn’t a surprise.  The real concern, in my mind, comes in three area:

  1. The speed of this change.  Technology innovation is (has been) accelerating at an increasing pace.  There is a constant race between those who are working to secure networks against attacks and those who seek to take advantage of the lag time I’m mentioned above. As we’ve seen with email scams, just as we figure out a scam (after it’s worked to steal identities and money) and word of its existence is promulgated; a new scam has already emerged.  Each new technology innovation creates a new opportunity.  The tech overload that results makes it hard for consumers to stay informed of functionality, let alone potential threats.
  2. The connected world and open networks.  There are massive benefits to the connected world we have created.  So massive, that we have to be careful to not overreact to threats by disconnecting or closing access.  But the reality is that the impact of a hack, scam or attack can instantaneously spread around the globe.  Take a look at the maps of yesterday’s DDOS attack. 
  3. The personal nature of IoT.  These networked tools will surround us.  They will know our habits, our health status, our work, our finances.  The digital mesh will become a part of us – around us, on us, and, likely, in us.  If this network can be hacked, what does it mean to our safety, our trust, our comfort with day-to-day life.

I don’t raise these issues as an effort to scare or put people off from adopting the innovations are coming at us quickly.  But, I think the widespread adoption of these tools will take longer than the futurists are predicting.  Caulfield’s call for more standards to create stability and interoperability is a key piece.  Providers and governments are working on security issues, but we obviously don’t know all the loopholes yet, let alone figured out solutions.  The economy around these tools is in

The economy around these tools is in its infancy.  How many of these tools will each of us have?  What is the optimal license fee for each that we can afford in our household budget?  Will this be enough revenue to support the providers?

How will these tools be supported? upgraded?

And most importantly, how quickly will we, the consumers, be ready and willing to trust the fit of our digital mesh.  I remember the resistance to laptops and cell phones because people didn’t want to be connected 24/7.  Obviously, we have overcome that discomfort, but it did take time.

I, for one, have been and will be adopting these tools in their early stages.  But I’ve already done so with my eyes wide open to the risks as well as the benefits.

I want to trust my toaster, but for now, I’m going to keep an eye on it.

What is your optimism/skepticism regarding these new tools?  Are you ready for your digital mesh fitting session?

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