Is The CIA Concerned About The Internet Of Things?
A recent forum on the future of warfare at the Aspen Security Centre in Colorado established that one of the major geo-security threats of the coming decades would be the internet of things – specifically the embedding of computers, sensors and internet capabilities into everyday objects. But why is the CIA worried?
Dawn Meyerriecks, the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Directorate of Science and Technology, said today’s concerns about cyber war don’t address the looming geo-security threats posed by the Internet of Things. “Smart refrigerators have been used in distributed denial of service attacks”, she said. “At least one smart fridge played a role in a massive spam attack last year, involving more than 100,000 internet-connected devices and more than 750,000 spam emails”.
She believes we are currently at a position where the physical and virtual are merging into one single reality – a situation which will inevitably create security and access problems for those within the organisation. Nonetheless, Meyerriecks says the CIA have no excuse for being caught out by technological growth or “punctuating technological disruptions” that can be easily predicted by today’s trends. She used the example of the mobile phone to define a ‘disruptor’, saying “when it goes from the brick to something I can’t leave my house without, then it’s disruptive”.
The CIA also believe the internet of things can make people vulnerable. Dick Cheney, former U.S. Vice President, had a wireless pacemaker installed in his chest in 2007 that would have allowed his doctor to monitor his heart online – but he didn’t enable the Bluetooth broadcasting feature for fear of it being hacked. The CIA is clearly concerned that – given our inability to secure data on our desktop computers – there could be an entire generation of baby boomers who are becoming vulnerable to lethal cyber attacks because of internet-enabled medical devices. It sounds far-fetched, but it’s becoming a reality.
These latest claims of supposed worry lie in sharp contrast to a 2012 interview given by then CIA Director David Petraeus in which he enthused about the possibilities. “‘Transformational’ is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies,” Petraeus said, “particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft”.
With the rise of the smart home, the CIA is undoubtedly more than happy for you to send tagged, geolocated data that the agency can intercept in real time. Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters – all of which will be connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing.
Which is the truth? Is the internet of things good or bad for the CIA? Let us know in the comments below.
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By Daniel Price