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Hack My Google Glass: Security's Next Big Worry?

Wearable computing devices must strike a difficult balance between security and convenience. A recent episode involving Google Glass and malicious QR codes raises questions.
That could eliminate the threat of users being tricked into going to malicious sites, which is a risk facing users of any computing device. "Social engineering will generally be the best way to convince people to give you passwords and money, and there's only so much technology you can put in to stop that," said Rosenberg. Then again, if attackers did begin targeting Glass users en masse with malicious QR codes, it's likely that security firms would advance new types of defenses. "If this starts being an issue, you'd start seeing blacklists in the QR readers themselves," he said.

When it comes to the ongoing challenge posed by QR codes -- attackers may link one to multiple redirects, before ending in a malicious site -- user interface changes could help better secure users. On this front, Rosenberg lauds the Windows Phone 7 interface, which offers built-in QR code scanning -- also of multiple codes at once -- then provides information related to each. "It puts a box around the QR code and shows where it goes," said Rosenberg, who earned a PhD in wearable computing in 1998 and has worked as a mobile user experience designer at Symbian and Nokia. "So if you've got six QR codes it will put six boxes and six explanations of where they go." That means a user, even in a hands-free environment, will be better informed about whether they should browse to the URL on offer.

As that suggests, many of the security problems dogging wearable computers could be fixed with user interface improvements, and by bringing BYOD polices to bear. But voice-activated wearable computing devices still remain at risk from eavesdropping. "Some things are okay, such as 'yes,' 'no,' 'do that,'" Rosenberg said. But too much of those types of voice inputs also raise the question of inappropriate social behavior, with people "bothered by you constantly piping up with random things."

On the upside, information displayed by Google Glass to a user is quite secure, unlike -- for example -- that government employee who's sitting in the airplane row ahead of you with the font size on his BlackBerry cranked up, and the screen inadvertently angled into your field of vision.

But there's a remaining, fundamental problem posed by wearable computers such as Google Glass, which automatically offload much of their processing to the cloud. "If it's recognizing the face of everyone you see, that's being uploaded, because the device isn't doing that locally," said Rosenberg. "So there are huge privacy issues."

Indeed, what's to stop the National Security Agency from automatically recording the identity of everyone that a Google Glass user sees? As always, with wearable computing automation and convenience come at least some security and privacy tradeoffs.

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