Fridge Terrorism – Risks of IoT

The idea of the Internet of Things has started to scare me. Talking to innovators, designers and entrepreneurs who are looking at the potential in this area I have come to the conclusion that, from a testing point of view, the biggest issue is going to be security. A great comment that came from one of these guys was “People will always tamper with things” and historically, however secure you try to make things, someone will always find a way around it or into it. Another popular comment seems to be “Let’s get something out there, even if it’s not perfect” (the modern day software development mantra I suppose). Put these two things together and it has the potential to spell disaster. The more we link our everyday devices together and make them accessible, the more vulnerable they become to mass attack for a number of reasons. Probably the least worrying of these (but still potentially serious) is the creation of tons of personal data about our personal lives and habits which is very useful to marketeers, allowing them to manipulate and direct our interests and needs down certain paths and point us towards their products by using what they know about us. That information in the wrong hands could have a catastrophic impact on life. Just think how paranoid we all are (or at least should be) about our ATM card PIN numbers and our bank details and the consequences of them falling into the wrong hands. Try multiplying this by every device in your house, your car, your workplace, even everything you wear or interact with. All of these things have the potential to tell other people things about you.

The latest communications technology called LiFi will replace the everyday use of WiFi. LiFi uses light instead of radio frequencies to transmit information (creating speed of light responses and no bandwidth issues) and will mean wherever there is a light source, there is a massively fast data connection. Even walking under a street light will allow people to find out things about you. If everything you wear, touch, own, interact with or simply come in to contact with can collect information about you and pass it out through these modern technologies, we become more vulnerable than ever. This is the concept of Big Data taken to the extreme. Some would argue that this is good for people and will make an ever complex world more focussed and understandable. There is massive potential for research into our habits, our health and our activities which could aid development of our every day needs such as the eradication of crime, disease and other everyday issues along with understanding our demands on our regular sustenance needs such as food, power and life support. These industries can use this information to target their objectives and products to provide more of what people need, when they need it.

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Now let’s look at the dark side. Nothing has ever really been invented for ‘evil’ in the first instance but has developed that way when it falls into the wrong hands. What has the potential for good also has the potential for bad so this information in the wrong hands can be used for the wrong reasons, for instance, understanding common food sources could allow people to target certain groups of people through contamination, tracking people’s activities and whereabouts again could target them and make them vulnerable and of course the potential to create ethnic divide would increase. We all want freedom but at what price?

Another side of this is device control. If we link our common devices together – let’s use the example of the common fridge – mass control can be introduced to regulate the operational capabilities of it. We all rely on our fridges to keep our foods, drinks (and in some case, medicines) cold, fresh and fit for consumption. What if someone had the capability to switch off and lock every fridge in a certain environment? Just imagine the impact and damage it could cause. Just imagine if someone could ‘jam’ all of the in-car computer systems for our driverless cars and make them lose control, creating havoc on our roads. What if someone could lock our shower cubicle doors with us inside and turn up the temperature of the water, boiling us in our own homes! extreme I know but I think you get the point…

All of this shows that the capability to target a specific demographic or person through data collection and analysis, followed by device control to manipulate or change their lives will be created by the Internet of Things. It all sounds very ‘sci-fi’ but this future is upon us now! As testers, we need to start thinking about how we are going to test this stuff. How are we going to prove the user experience and make sure these things are safe and secure? It’s up to the innovators to come up with the ideas and the technology but it’s up to us as testers to make sure they work. I spoke to some innovators about these concerns and the levels of assurance we might need to go to. The feed back I received was “Depends on how critical they are” which to me is frightening. Criticality is an individual, subjective thing to each and every one of us. We need to start thinking about these things NOW before they become critical and too big to control. It’s not just about testing technology, it’s about testing environments, people’s habits, impacts and needs. True ‘4 Dimensional Testing’.

Chris Ambler – Director Digital Entertainment – Edge Testing

About the Author

Chris Ambler BSc(Hons) FBCS

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