The vulnerability of an increasingly connected world

by Evs

A great TED talk called “All your devices can be hacked” by Avi Rubin got me thinking about the vulnerability in the technology we use and depend on. The talk outlines a few examples of the security threats that emerge in an ever more technologically-dependant world. As cars, medical devices and mobile devices become more connected, they also become vulnerable to manipulation from the outside. Given the right tools, these devices can often be hacked.

The whole talk can be seen here:

But hacking is nothing new, so what’s the big deal? Well when the technology is being used to control real-life physical processes (as opposed to virtual processes), then any interference with this technology could have immediate and potentially very dangerous consequences in the real world. One of the most poignant examples Rubin gives in his talk is that of the pacemaker. If the pacemakers uses a wireless interface (which is a reality), then someone with the right tools could potentially hack into the device and affect the way the users heart is being regulated. Its a terrifying thought.

Rubin asks the manufacturers of these connected devices to pay greater attention to the possible hacks that correspond to these devices. Unfortunately right now, the push to be “first to market” may mean that some security testing for new devices is fast tracked. I think we need to look to policy makers and regulatory organizations to make sure that these devices get checked. The risks are becoming too great to be “laissez-faire” about it.

In a related article in “The Atlantic”, Why Cognitive Enhancement Is in Your Future (and Your Past), writer Ross Anderson interviews author and bioethicist Allen Buchanen about the ethical ramifications of these cognitive enhancements. Buchanen says that while many human enhancements may take the form of pills or Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (a modern form of shock-therapy that apparently makes you smarter), some of these enhancements could take the form of high tech brain-to-computer interfacing technologies.

Besides the plethora of ethical dilemmas such technology carries (will only the rich get access, what if an immoral person gets access, etc.), we also need to ask, will this technology make our brains vulnerable to mind hacks? Will we soon have Dollhouse-inspired zombie cyborg army?

Unlikely. But before we jump to incorporate the next big technological advance into our lives, or our bodies, we need to get a real sense of the risks and gage whether these are really risks worth taking.

If you have read other articles or have some additional thoughts on this, please leave a comment!