The world is at a tipping point. We have a great opportunity to learn from our past mistakes and leap-frog into a future previously only dreamed of by the likes of Asimov, Card, and Gibson. We also have the opportunity to completely ignore what we’ve learned in the past and plunge ourselves into a world that looks more like Skynet with machines in control and humans fighting to simply stay safe.
Sure, this is a somewhat dramatic view of the world and what we are facing, but when we look at the emerging influx of IoT devices that are being connected to the Internet at rate never seen before -- where each one has available computing power that can be used nefariously -- we are willingly creating a world where the machine outnumber the humans.
In recent years, the European Union (EU) has been looking at ways to harmonize their data privacy laws across all member states while the US has maintained a patchwork implementation of federal, state, and industry requirements. The EU’s desire for harmonization is based on practical implementation and business requirements. Without harmonization, companies will continue to waste time and resources trying to deal with different interpretations of the directive.
In the US, the haphazard overlap and lack of enforceability of standards allow innovation to flourish but puts the short-term gains against long-term effects. Security is a tool for achieving privacy and we are building security into the products and services that by sheer design means we will forever be playing catch up.
People versus things
Let's use IoT devices as an example. At the end of 2014, the world’s population was estimated at just over seven billion people while the population of IoT devices was 3.75 billion, about half the number of humans. We estimate the population will increase by a billion individuals for a total of eight billion by 2025.
On the other hand, by 2020 some project the IoT device population to be between 25- and 30 billion, and a recent McKinsey report expects by 2025 (Cue the Dr. Evil voice.) one TRILLION devices. Regardless of the actual number, it is safe to say we are on the road to be massively outnumbered by machines with strong computing power that we have empowered to make decisions in our lives.
The development of these devices and the services that they connect to need to be built with security and privacy from the ground up. Unfortunately in the startup landscape, these are not considerations that are developed by design at the beginning of a product's life. The general rule of thumb is don't invest in anything that doesn't contribute to sales; without sales there is no point in developing new products.
However, by the time a consumer product becomes wildly popular and generates enough revenue (ignore profit) to warrant a responsible approach to security, it's already out there and any attempt to retrofit security is nearly impossible, at best it can get patch if the user even considers it. Think about your home: Nest? Check. PS4? Check. Smart TV? Check, check. Tablet? Check, check, check! But where is the impetus to ensure these are developed and managed appropriately?
Chris Roberts and the team at One World Labs were able to use a stove running Android to gain access to a user's entire home (Nest, Garage door, NAS, etc.). From there they were able to take control of his car, his laptop, and finally the computers running the major system at his work --which happened to be a power station. The lab team of four or five people in under a couple of months was able to physically and logically own this one guy and the company he worked for. Imagine what can be done when someone writes a self-replicating worm for IoTs.
Something that comes in through email or on a laptop and replicates throughout the house and then waits for guests to come over and replicates to their devices.
Cars that belong to friends, family, or even service agents (gas, cable, plumbers etc.) as they pull up to the house, the wearables they have while they’re in your house, and your neighbors who are within range.
Imagine how fast something could spread inside an apartment building or hotel? Combine this with the exploit developed by Miller and Valasek and not only can you compromise devices, you could actively try to kill people. Picture the scene in World War Z when Gerry Lane is driving his family through the city and the outbreak starts. He counts the time it takes for the infection to spread from person to person: it took ten seconds, and in the digital world we count in milliseconds!!!
Why are we not building the security by design? Our companies are not organized or structured for it. Too many companies still build products using traditional waterfall methodologies or worse "hybrid-waterfall-agile" methodologies. All this means they -- the engineering team -- use sprints to build code then throw it over the fence to Operations and Security to "do their magic."
It takes a full DevOpsSec team to successfully build security and privacy by design. Until we break down the silos in technology companies, give up our internal empires and begin building the teams needed to deliver what we should deliver and not what we are currently legally permitted to deliver, we will continue to watch as customer data is exposed across the Internet and traded like a commodity.