Behold the glorious future -- with the same old security

From delivery drones to implanted medical monitors, technology is about to become more incredible -- but not more secure

Behold the glorious future -- with the same old security
Credit: IDG Staff

If you’re under the age of 65, chances are you'll live long enough to see most cars become autonomous, self-driving, shared transportation pods. You'll see home delivery by drone become the norm. You'll become host to the myriad of computers you and your clothing will contain. All reality will become augmented reality. You'll be able to buy anything you see on TV simply by motioning toward it. Your eyes will become the best digital camera ever.

Our body monitors will automatically notify our doctors and call the ambulance in case of a life-threatening occurrence. We will be chipped for nearly perfect identification. Our cellphones will become true cellular phones and part of our bodies. No one else will see your internal heads-up display unless you share it with them.

Forget the Internet of things. Who cares about smart toasters and refrigerators? We’re on the brink of the glorious age of the Internet of wonderful things! And if you care about security, no doubt you're hoping that all these life-enhancing (and sometimes life-threatening) inventions will be very secure.

Rest assured: They won't be. 

History tells us that every one of these products will be rushed out sooner than they are security-ready. Their sponsors will assure us that they are unhackable and irreproachably safe. Some will be offended you asked. But if we can’t even prevent our flying, bomb-dropping war drones from being hacked by $26 of software, how can we ever hope to secure that buzzing airborne craft delivering our pizza?

If most of these great inventions don’t get hacked and kill a few people, it won’t be because the designers did an incredible job securing our most critical assets. It will be due to a bored teenage hacker who didn’t want to expend the energy and focused on another shiny object.

If I can provide any comfort, know that a plethora of computers and devices have already been hackable and able to kill us for a long time. In fact, occasionally they do kill us, though usually due to programming mistakes or chip bugs versus hackers. Stuff happens.

I’ve written about this before: More than 20 years ago, I witnessed a laboratory hospital computer send an erroneous reading that resulted in a patient dying. It was quickly covered up. Objects fail all the time. Hackers have had access to life-threatening computer systems for decades, but rarely do they try to cause harm.

Get used to the fact that our Internet of wonderful things will have both good and bad consequences, which have in fact been with us for a long time. Even if the newer, cooler thing kills us -- and the occasional evil hacker causes mayhem -- it will be at lower levels than we kill ourselves.

Security is not black and white; it’s shades of gray along a continuum. Show me perfect security and I’ll show you a society that is not progressing fast enough. The key is for us to try and prevent the most catastrophic scenarios, get rid of the low-hanging fruit, continue to make progress (in both technology and securing of the technology), and respond appropriately when we need to.

Perfect security is not needed. It has never been needed before, and it won't be needed in the future, not even in the era of the Internet of wonderful things.

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