When you and your colleagues in IT hear the CEO talking about the Internet of Things, the excitement in the CEO's voice means only one thing: You're unlikely to be home in time for dinner for quite some time. Boards and CEOs see all of the potential benefits of this all-inclusive toasters-and-vacuum-cleaners-connected-to-the-Internet scenario and think little of the nightmarish risks.
I mean, what could possibly go wrong when you have dozens of household appliances and devices being controlled by any seemingly authenticated person on the other side of an Ethernet connection?
For starters, you could point out to the higher-ups that the Internet of Things has the potential to introduce millions of new backdoors into networks, putting proprietary information at risk. But you know what they'll tell you: "Well, it's your job to make sure that doesn't happen. Take care of it." If you spin up more elaborate threats -- such as someone taking over your oven, turning on the gas and turning off the pilot lights and blowing you up -- they'll likely say that you've been watching too many bad movies.
But being responsible for the information and device security of all of these things is only half the nightmare. How about handling the oceans of new data that you'll be responsible for managing, protecting and analyzing? You thought mobile data avalanches were bad? Wait until every car, refrigerator and vacuum cleaner is sending you files. And while you're dealing with all that, who in your company is keeping the alarming privacy threats of the Internet of Things in check?
If you think this all sounds silly, take a look at Google's purchase of Nest, a sophisticated household thermostat. Talk about data potential. What do you think is going to happen when you give a company that makes its money from advertising a window into your temperature settings? If you're someone who is always cranking up the heat, Google might send you an offer for 20% off electric blankets, firewood or two weeks in the Caribbean.
Does that not seem all that intrusive to you? (Excuse me; I meant helpful.) Well, then, let's say that your Nest thermostat has recorded a long history of you keeping the thermostat at 71 degrees during the winter months but you suddenly start to set it at 66. Google's algorithms take note, make some calculations and conclude that you are in dire financial straits. Now you're getting offers for low-interest loans or selling your gold jewelry for cash now. Maybe your neighbor doesn't realize that you've been laid off, but Google does.
But this isn't just about Google wanting to know all about you -- though heaven knows its appetite for information about everyone on the planet is ravenous. Lots of companies want to get into this game, all in the name of making life easier for you, though somehow it manages to fall to their advantage. Consider the vacuum cleaner. Now consider a young man who owns a networked vacuum, which notes that the young man goes from hardly ever running the vacuum to using it every few days. Result: Young man is inundated with offers of discounts on flowers, candy boxes and dinners for two. He can only hope Google, Amazon or whoever is behind those offers doesn't spill the beans to Mom before he has a chance.