The Internet of Hacked Things

By Mark Roberti

A New York Times story says security is going to be a major problem for the Internet of Things.

Life—or, at least, the technology-adoption lifecycle—is so predictable. In October 2014, when we launched IOT Journal, I wrote, in an opinion column, "There is a lot of hype about the Internet of Things, and that hype will fade, just as it did for RFID and eventually does for all new technologies" (see The Internet of Things Journal).

Sure enough, the Internet of Things is losing its luster. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how consumer interest in smart home devices was waning (see IoT Hype Begins to Fade). Last week, The New York Times published a cogent article, "Why 'Smart' Objects May Be a Dumb Idea." This article is an example of how the press has turned negative on the IoT concept, and illustrates why new technologies turn out to be harder to deploy than anyone anticipates.

The article was written by Zeynep Tufekci, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina's School of Information and Library Science. She points out that connecting refrigerators, sniper rifles and cars to the Internet to make them more useful sounds great until you learn about the risks involved.

"Recently, two security researchers, sitting on a couch and armed only with laptops, remotely took over a Chrysler Jeep Cherokee speeding down the highway, shutting down its engine as an 18-wheeler truck rushed toward it," Tufekci writes. "They did this all while a Wired reporter was driving the car. Their expertise would allow them to hack any Jeep as long as they knew the car's I.P. address, its network address on the Internet. They turned the Jeep's entertainment dashboard into a gateway to the car's steering, brakes and transmission."

Tufekci points out that the Internet was initially intended to connect people who already trusted one another, such as academic researchers or military networks. "It never had the robust security that today's global network needs," she writes. "As the Internet went from a few thousand users to more than three billion, attempts to strengthen security were stymied because of cost, shortsightedness and competing interests. Connecting everyday objects to this shaky, insecure base will create the Internet of Hacked Things. This is irresponsible and potentially catastrophic."

Baby monitors, Internet-connected sniper rifles and other objects connected to the Internet have already been hacked, Tufekci notes. At the recent Def Con annual information security conference, she says, researchers set up an Internet of Things village to show how they could hack everyday objects like baby monitors, thermostats and security cameras. This is turning off consumers and potentially businesses that want to use IoT technologies to add value to existing products.

I'm not at all surprised that IoT technologies are falling into the chasm. It happens with all new technologies. We will continue to publish IOT Journal because we can help companies navigate these complex issues and achieve real value, just as we've helped educate those who have been taking advantage of RFID over the past decade. And just as RFID is emerging from the chasm and being adopted on a wide scale, the Internet of Things will come back in a big way as well. It's so predictable.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark's opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor's Note archive or RFID Connect.