Emerging technology is pretty cool – but it can also be pretty frightening, as Shara Evans, futurist and CEO of Market Clarity, made abundantly clear in her presentation at CeBIT 2016. Turns out a lot of the things we see in movies – face transplants in Face Off, crime prediction in Minority Report, fleshbots in Terminator – are not as far off as we might think, and the effects of these new technologies on cyber security could potentially be dire.
Cyber security is already regularly in the news – there was the breach of the Ashley Madison database in August 2015; the US Office of Personnel Management hack in Dec 2014, touted as the largest data breach in US history; and in Feb 2016 Apple went head-to-head against the FBI after they requested that Apple provide access to a locked iPhone and Apple refused. In the end, the phone was hacked by a private security firm.
So it seems that, even now, cyber defences are not impenetrable. But what happens when you throw a whole new set of technologies into the mix? Are the security implications of these new technologies being carefully considered?
Facial recognition, for example, is one such technology quickly gaining pace; in fact, it is now so accurate it can even detect faces in a large crowd, and at different angles. And it is already being used for identification purposes – no doubt many of us have cheered the SmartGates at airports as we skip past the winding immigration queues. But what would happen if a biometric database of this nature was hacked? Unless you were prepared to take extreme measures, it’s not really possible to change the features of your face. What if your face was then assigned to a criminal’s identity? How would you go about proving who you really were?
As robotics gets more sophisticated, and 3D printing of biological material becomes possible, the ways in which your identity could be stolen become ever more elaborate and scary. In time it may even become possible to build a robot that was a direct replica of you. What could be done with such technology?
Another area of technology rapidly taking over the world (so to speak) is the Internet of Things, and many are touting the arrival of smart cities. But imagine the following scenario: it’s a hot, humid day in Sydney. You’re driving through the Sydney Harbour Tunnel, trying to get to work or drop your kids off at school. Then all the exhaust fans in the tunnel stop working. The levels of carbon monoxide start rising. You start to feel woozy. Suddenly you’re heading straight for a head-on collision … Now imagine this is happening all over Sydney – traffic lights are going haywire, causing accidents; alarms are being set off falsely, overwhelming the emergency response systems. This is what a cyber attack could look like. Terrified yet?
There’s also huge security implications related to drones – some are so small that they are the size of a mosquito. Imagine this perched in a boardroom meeting, recording everything. Could stock markets be manipulated? Could mergers be compromised?
There are extremely exciting developments happening in technology, and they are happening faster than ever. But there needs to be a thorough consideration of the security risks and how these could be managed at each step of the way. As Evans said in her closing words: ‘We can no longer afford to have security or privacy as an afterthought or to have ethics missing in action. The future is not written; it’s up to us to create the world we want to live in.’