The See-Saw Effect: IoT and the Collective Digital Integrity

The Internet of Things (IoT), a network of technological connectivity. A web of technological interaction and interdependence. An entirely new level of engagement with technology, and more importantly with one another. 

It is estimated that by 2020 there will be more than 50 billion Internet-connected devices that will transform the way we live and work. But as we have discussed before, the proliferation of digital connection also ensures an elevated inflow of threats and vulnerabilities to the integrity of data and information systems. Moreover, interdependence of systems implies that threats and attacks are no longer isolated, as one security infiltration inevitably has far-reaching effects and consequences that reverberate throughout entire networks of integration. 

So there seems to be a see-saw effect: The smarter and more integrated an environment might be, the more vulnerable to security threats such an environment might correspondingly be. 

But where are the most significant IoT vulnerabilities as we understand them now?

The Hacker News suggests that the following cities are the most susceptible to cyber attacks, due to their levels of developed IoT network integration:

  1. Santander, Spain
  2. New York City, USA
  3. Aguas De Sao Pedro, Brazil
  4. Songdo, South Korea
  5. Tokyo, Japan
  6. Hong Kong
  7. Arlington County, Virginia, USA

With the following "smart" tech, these cities are advancing the digitization of operations in a fascinating way. Just a short exemplary list to demonstrate the proliferation of these technologies, as they are not limited to any particular geographic region. There are very likely IoT dependent locales rather close to where you reside now. 

  • Smart street lights: Centrally managed and can adapt to weather conditions, report problems, or be automated by time of the day.
  • Smart Public Transportation and Traffic control Systems adjust traffic lights based on current traffic conditions.
  • Smart parking application to find available parking slots.
  • Smart Water and Energy Management, provides information regarding the quality of air, water needs.

However, a major concern is that security has not been adequately assessed. If cyber is tied so closely to the operation and knowledge of transportation, water, energy, and geographic location of individuals, then how can we ensure that the positive benefits of IoT network integration are not gravely compromised?

These concerns are amplified upon Fiat Chrysler's recall of some 1.4 million vehicles due to the remote hackability of the central operating functions of some "smart" cars, including AC, heat, steering, windshield wipers, lights, power, locks, and essentially any electronically operable functionality. Not so "smart", eh?

Failure to implement standard security measures amidst the new IoT phenomenon coupled with feeble encryption measures are certainly cause for alarm. 

The Hacker News mentions last year's cyber attack scenario involving IoT tech where hackers infiltrated over 100,000 devices including smart TVs, refrigerators, and other smart household appliances to send out millions of malicious spam emails. Another case is highlighted where researchers discovered a Linux worm, Linux.Darlloz, that essentially hijacked a number of routers, set-up boxes, security cameras, and printers to extract crypto currencies like Bitcoin. 

Thus, this is not simply superfluous sensationalism or hollow critique, it is a real issue that the IoT movement is going to have to address head on. The potential for  individuals and societies to become "digitally handicapped", as Khyati Jain puts it, or at the mercy of the integrity of the digital environment, is very much upon us. Rather than mindlessly consuming and creating, advancement of tech and solutions with integrity require an equivalent emphasis on security and implications of the downside. Any true solution thoroughly considers the worst-case scenario, have we awoken to that reality with large scale IoT development and solutions?