When Everything's Networked

Perhaps the most important piece of good news about device networking is that its security risks are so egregious, so scary, that they will force companies to implement the security principles they should have been following all along.

You'll need a strategy for dealing with the hidden risks of Internet-connected air conditioners, door locks and forklifts.

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In this story:

  • The benefits and security risks of networked non-computer devices
  • Strategies for securing them

Lance James stopped at the Arco station but found "out of order" signs on all the petrol pumps. The woman behind the counter was shouting into the phone that the station's network had been down for two days - thus no credit or debit card transactions - and the pumps were shut down as well. James mentioned his background in network engineering and offered to take a look (he's the CSO of Secure Science).

The pumps were connected to the station's local area network. The LAN led to a converter box, which connected to the outside world via a modem. The modem was off. James turned the modem back on, rebooted the main computer, and all the credit card systems went back online.

And the pumps worked.

Welcome to the world of device networking. It's the next very big thing: connecting non computer gizmos to a network, like a LAN or the Internet. Some examples are by now familiar - printers, telephones, cameras. But the list keeps going and growing. Besides petrol pumps, there are forklifts, lifts, motors, signs, alarms, switches, GPS systems, intercoms, thermostats, vending machines, biometric devices, counters, power supplies, locks, lights, heating and cooling systems, and on and on - right now, someone is working to put each of these devices onto a network.

The grand goal is to improve the work product of practically everyone in the enterprise. R&D can monitor the behaviour of products that have been installed in the customer's workplace. Facilities management will be able to do a remote visual check of any room in which a fire alarm has gone off. Since networked devices are always on, they generate continuous data streams that can be sifted and filtered and analyzed. Equipment needing repair or replacement can automatically alert the maintenance department. Customer support will know when vending devices need refilling. And all these devices will in turn have access to programs and databases, making them more intelligent as well. (Imagine a door lock that knows which days are holidays.) Harbor Research predicts that by the end of the decade, considerations like these will have brought trillions of devices online and into communication with each other and with databases, analysis programs and human users.

Initially, only one person in the company is likely to have mixed feelings about device networking: you.

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