The Internet of Things is celebrating a milestone birthday this year, says Charles Eagan, CTO at BlackBerry. Back in 1999, British technologist Kevin Ashton coined the term Internet of Things (IoT) while developing sensor and identification technologies at MIT. Today, as the now-ubiquitous term turns 20 years old, I can’t help but reflect on how far the concept has come in such a short time.
But the IoT revolution has also presented great challenges over the past two decades, and security is now the most critical issue facing those at the forefront of the digital transformation age. We’ve connected countless things in the spirit of IoT; now, we must secure all the things we’ve connected.
The internet revolution has touched virtually every industry or sector. Take the air travel industry, for instance – until recently, internet connectivity was unavailable at 35,000 feet, and passengers busied themselves with in-flight magazines instead of email or Slack. But with Wi-Fi now increasingly available on flights around the globe (and with 5G internet that creates access speeds akin to Wi-Fi), modern air travel has opened the potential for a cyberattack that could have devastating, dreadful, or even deadly consequences.
And these issues aren’t limited to the skies – they also present themselves on the frontline of combat, too. Soldiers now rely on wearable technology, and military devices aren’t limited to the top of a helmet; they also run up and down a soldier’s arms and legs. These devices communicate orders and highly-critical information. But if the technology isn’t secure, hacks could see soldiers unknowingly walk straight into the line of fire.
Even democracy can be drastically impacted by the lack of secured connectivity. Ballot boxes that use technologies are at risk of being hacked, which could undermine the very foundations our societies are built upon.
These are issues that impact all of us. Look at smart homes: internet-enabled light bulbs, smart displays, and voice-activated assistants offer new conveniences in our lives, but they’re also opening attack vectors that could leave your personal details – or even your home – accessible to unscrupulous people.
Healthcare is another area that is close to all our lives. Internet-connected pacemakers can allow for software updates, while also providing doctors with patient access much faster than previously possible. Yet, if there is a lack of security in these devices, the patient’s very life could be at risk. Simply put, we must match the pace of innovation with the pace of security.
Convenience without security is not convenient – it is an open invitation for risk. Our society is already joined together by many of these connected devices, and stories of the latest security breach seem to populate our news feeds almost daily. So as the IoT prepares to enter its third decade, security is set to define its ongoing success.
Within the next five years, the presence of these connected devices will grow exponentially. Securing the IoT is not a task for the future, it’s a task for the present – it’s never been more integral to maintain data integrity and privacy in securing the things we’re connecting. Security must be woven into the DNA of every device, from design, to the factory floor, to the living room. Security is not a luxury – it’s a necessity.
As business models evolve, so, too, must our very definition of security. With security risks becoming more frequent and more personal in nature, we must find solutions before it’s too late. And we must establish reliable benchmarks and definitions of security, so all our connected devices meet the same high standards.
As participants in the global economy, this presents an opportunity to make a collective choice on what capabilities we invest in. The most trusted, precise method is via unified endpoint management platform that provides flexible end-to-end security. Complete endpoint management and policy control are essential to securing the IoT and keeping users safe.
As an industry, we need to collaborate to help governments, healthcare institutions, banks, and manufacturers navigate our hyperconnected future and all its inherent threats. In practical terms, this means securing driverless cars, drones, incident response systems, robots in hospitals, black boxes, and everything else in between. Success on this front will keep data private and secure, and, ultimately, keep people safe and healthy.
The future is one of hyperconnectivity. If security can keep pace with technological innovation, the future of the Internet of Things can live up to its current potential.
And that’s the best birthday present we could possibly give.
The author is Charles Eagan, CTO at BlackBerry.