With the birth of the internet, ordinary people were granted access to a vast cyberspace of new and exciting possibilities. Data acquisition has reached enormous and almost all-encompassing proportions.
For the first time in history, we can order (and receive) our weekly shop without having to leave our desks, and can connect instantly with people on the other side of the world. We can connect our phones to our cars and our laptops, and can even use them to control our central heating systems whilst out and about.
Virtually everyone in the twenty-first century has an online data footprint — but in reality, how safe are we?
The ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) is the name given to the ‘conversation’ between devices connected to one’s personal network. Whilst internet technologies appear to make our lives easier, there are risks inherent in storing personal information within such a pregnable network. One of the major concerns with IoT is the fact that networks can be accessed through any connected device, with domestic appliances like boilers, thermostats, and refrigerators posing the most significant risks. Whilst smartphones and computers tend to be closely guarded against cyber-attack, domestic appliances are not designed with security in mind, and therefore represent a ‘weak point’ in the system.
As data acquisition devices evolve and the technology develops, we need to be cognisant of the security implications. Since hackers have been proven to be able to hack into a car and control not only the radio, but the brakes and steering, there are evidently vulnerabilities that unscrupulous individuals will always be able to take advantage of.
We may be able to collect data securely, but without measures to ensure the careful storage and analysis of that data, this practice is redundant. Secure business information on product development is particularly attractive to hackers.
Newspapers are periodically filled with cases of high-profile data security breaches. One example occurred in 2014, when internet hackers used unauthorised information from heating and ventilation contractors to gain access to 100 million ‘Target’ customers’ personal data. The vulnerabilities weren’t in their systems, but in the system of their heating and ventilation suppliers. There is also potential for physical damage when such networks are infiltrated: tampering with the thermostat in food or pharmaceutical warehouses can result in the spoilage of perishable goods; power grids can be taken down. Politically motivated attackers may manipulate IoT networks to launch systemic attacks on the economy of the country or region they’re targeting.
By 2020, it is estimated that up to 20% of annual security budgets will go into addressing compromises in IoT security. Going forward, the biggest concern for companies is ensuring that their online systems are carefully protected to safeguard their users’ personal information. Slip ups are extremely costly, both financially and in terms of brand reputation, and can result in lawsuits or fines for the violation of privacy laws.