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This is what our kids will hate us for: IoT devices 'asbestos of the future'

By Shannon Williams
Wed 9 Oct 2019
FYI, this story is more than a year old

The lack of security in Internet of Things devices has experts warning IoT could be the 'asbestos of the future'.

According to GlobalData, there are currently believed to be seven billion internet of things (IoT) devices worldwide. Forecasts vary, but the consensus is the number will grow exponentially over the coming years, with some estimates as high as 40 billion connected IoT devices by 2025.

"Security in IoT devices has repeatedly been shown to be lacking: from a vulnerable child location-tracking watch to office printers at risk to Russian cyberattacks," says Rob Scammell, technology reporter at GlobalData.

"Often, this is as simple as device owners failing to change the password from a weak factory setting. In the race to get products to market ahead of competitors, security is also often an afterthought," he says.

"The ever-growing number of IoT devices, in combination with this lax security, is a perfect storm for cyberattacks."

Mikko Hyppnen, chief research officer at Finnish cybersecurity firm F-Secure, says the proliferation of 'stupid internet-connected smart devices' will be the IT asbestos of the future.

"Asbestos was such a great innovation. It looked like a miracle material, originally," explains Hyppnen.

Hyppnen draws parallels between the rampant use of cancer-causing asbestos in the 1960s and 1970s to the cybersecurity risks that come with the explosion of smart devices worldwide today.

"Such a great innovation, which then decades later turned out to be the worst innovation," he says. 

"What's happening right now, around us, I guess would be characterised as IT asbestos."

Hyppnen says that while we are currently in the early stages of this revolution, eventually anything that uses electricity will be online.

"So this is going to happen, whether we like it or not. Everything will become a computer and right now this seems like an excellent idea, to many of the companies in this business," he says.

"This is not the first time technology has taken us in the wrong direction. So I think this is dangerous," explains Hyppnen. 

"It's very dangerous for our privacy. It's dangerous for our security. This is going to be the IT asbestos of the future. This is what our kids will hate us for."

Hyppnen  says as connectivity becomes cheaper and cheaper, eventually, it's not going to be just smart things going online, it's going to be 'stupid' things.

"I'm actually much more worried about stupid things online than smart things,"he says. This includes smart toasters and fridges - things Hyppnen says consumers don't really need to be online.

"For tech companies, this data will be valuable; the time you toast, your favourite settings, how many people are making toast around the world, the country that makes the most toast, and so on," he says.

"However, there is an asymmetry in value for the consumer and for the company and when the security risks are factored in, it becomes a pretty bad deal for consumers."

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