The Internet of Things Demands Trust

In the IoT, every connection is a threat vector. But by banding together and deploying sensible baseline security standards, the industry can turn the Internet of Things into the Internet of Trust.
By Philip Lewer
Jul 28, 2015

Forecasted to soon become a trillion-dollar market, the Internet of Things promises—and likely will deliver—a smarter, more connected, safer and more data-driven society. Yet for all its advantages, threats abound: by transforming virtually any device into an interactive part of a powerful network, the IoT could expose the number of vulnerabilities in any given system that scales exponentially. By 2050, Cisco estimates that more than 50 billion objects could be Internet-connected. The extraordinarily vulnerable nature of a hyper-connected world means consumer trust is more paramount to the success of IoT products and companies than ever before. In order to reach its trillion-dollar market potential, the Internet of Things must become an Internet of Trust.

As last year's incident of a refrigerator being converted into a zombie computer to spread malware demonstrated, the very concept of the IoT presents the vexing challenge that virtually any device can be weaponized. Converting devices into hacking platforms is just the beginning: connected homes and sensors collect data that can be even more devastating than "traditional" computers when leaked. Even medical implants are considered potential threats—or targets. As recently as 2007, then-Vice President Dick Cheney's heart implant was designed with hacking threats in mind.

Public awareness of hacking vulnerabilities is steadily growing, thanks to high-profile events like the recent Sony Pictures and Anthem hacks. As damaging as these events have been, the United States is faced with the near certainty that future hacks will be even more destructive. With the increasing combination of regulatory action and public concern around cyber-security, trust is crucial: companies must assure their customers and the broader public that data is private, networks are protected and information is safeguarded.

Trust, created through product security, will support data privacy and ensure cyber-safety. Whenever there's a failure in security due to a data breach, a denial-of-service attack, identity theft, the spread of malware or some other act of sabotage, the failure can almost always be tied to unauthorized access. At some point, someone (or something) found a way to be where they shouldn't have been, and did damage.

This means that maintaining security is, at its core, about preventing anyone or anything from gaining unauthorized access. Before being allowed to submit data, modify information, save settings or execute tasks, whoever or whatever is trying to gain access—be it a person, a device or a piece of software—must first verify that they are, indeed, who they say they are. This process, known as authentication, is the starting point for all online security. When done right, authentication protects every interaction and makes it safer for people, devices and applications to access and share data.

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