Conficker, a computer worm whose sophisticated botnet (a network of infected computers) infected as many as 15 billion (that's with a “b”!) Windows PCs in late 2008, reared its ugly head again in mid-November. This time it had infected not laptops and PCs, but police body cameras—and what's more, comes shipped pre-installed from the manufacturer. Security researchers also made headlines in August by demonstrating their ability to remotely control a Jeep: They disabled braking and acceleration capabilities and managed to kill the engine.
Welcome to the age of the Internet of Things. From the time we wake up in the morning until we go to bed at night, we are living in a world in which we are increasingly surrounded by Internet- and network-connected things. By 2020, the number of connected devices is expected to outnumber the number of connected people by a ratio of 6 to 1, according to research by Cisco.
More and more of the world has a digital component. Insulin pumps are enabled with Bluetooth, pacemakers and cochlear implants are connected to a network, and refrigerators have IP addresses. Cars are essentially computers on wheels, and the lock on the front door of a home can be controlled by a smartphone from anywhere in the world.
This Internet of Things creates opportunities for technology to make our lives easier and healthier, providing instantaneous access and reach to technology and information. Our health can be monitored with Fitbits, devices worn on the wrist or body that can track sleep patterns, heart rate and even blood pressure. The Nest brand thermostat can digitally adapt to our daily patterns, while doorbell cameras can identify the person at the door and send an instant alert to a smartphone.
But the electronic comes with inherent risks. Researchers estimate that there are between 4.9 billion and 25 billion connected “things,” mainly computers, mobile phones, and traditional computing components. For the most part, we know how to protect these kinds of devices, and the risks are manageable…
The remainder of this commentary is available at nationalinterest.org.
Lillian Ablon is a researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation, where she recently studied the security of the Internet of Things for the RAND Center for Global Risk & Security.
This commentary originally appeared on The National Interest on December 7, 2015. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.