Experts Ponder Implications of IoT Vulnerabilities and Risks

The Internet of Things is now made up of approximately 8.4 billion devices, in cars, voice-activated assistants, home security systems, personal fitness trackers and health-monitoring devices. Much of the “connection” is behind the scenes and involves machine learning-enhanced communication. But an increasing number of IoT products are embedded in the things of daily life, from toothbrushes and dental floss to baby monitors, umbrellas and remote-controlled pet food dispensers. Security and safety issues are now a focus.

The Pew Research Center reports that at a September 2016 meeting of security conference DEF CON, experts revealed 47 vulnerabilities impacting 23 IoT-enabled items from 21 manufacturers. The items included door locks, wheelchairs, and thermostats. Now, experts are asking if such security risks could “prompt people, businesses and government to avoid or withdraw from certain online connectivity options.”


To answer that question, Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center conducted a nonscientific canvas of “technologists, scholars, practitioners, strategic thinkers and other leaders.”

More specifically, the research queried if “as automobiles, medical devices, smart TVs, manufacturing equipment and other tools and infrastructure are networked, is it likely that attacks, hacks or ransomware concerns in the next decade will cause significant numbers of people to decide to disconnect, or will the trend toward greater connectivity of objects and people continue unabated?”

Of the 1,201 respondents, 15 percent said, “significant numbers would disconnect, and 85 percent said that, “most people will move more deeply into connected life.” The themes that arose from their responses were that, “people crave connection and convenience, and a tech-linked world serves both goals well,” and that “unplugging isn’t easy now, and by 2026 it will be even tougher.”

They also noted that risk is “part of life,” and that “most people believe the worst-case scenario would never happen to them.” Another theme was that, “human ingenuity and risk-mitigation strategies will make the Internet of Things safer.” Some opined that “more people will be connected and more will withdraw or refuse to participate,” while others said that, “notable numbers will disconnect.” But, they concluded, “whether or not people disconnect, the dangers are real” as “security and civil liberties issues are being magnified by the rapid rise of the Internet of Things.”

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