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Why the Internet of Things may never happen

Mike Elgan | Sept. 30, 2014
The Internet of Things is the grand idea of our time. Unfortunately, that vision may never become reality.

Of course massive numbers of servers run Unix- and Linux-based systems and are therefore vulnerable. They're also easily fixable. The process for updating and patching PCs and servers is well established.

But most Internet of Things appliances also run Bash. We're talking about the webcam that's pointed at your face right now, automated door locks to your house, your car dashboard, calculators, toasters and the whole incredible range of Internet of Things devices.

Many of these devices won't be patched. If they're exploited in certain ways by hackers using the Shellshock bug, those hacks could go on for years without anyone knowing.

This is the core problem with security and the Internet of Things. When a new vulnerability is discovered, malicious hackers will pour their energy and creativity into seeing how those vulnerabilities can be exploited. The Internet of Things, with its vast complexity and variety, is an amazing target.

Like the standards problem, it's difficult to see how this situation could be reversed.

The Shellshock bug is one problem. But the confounding complexity, variety and forgettability, if you will, of Internet of Things devices is the larger problem.

The owners of these devices mostly have no idea whether their Internet of Things devices even run Bash or not and, if they do, how to protect them. Nor will they in the future.

Like the standards problem, the security problem appears unsolvable -- or, at least, I have not heard anyone suggest any solution that's even remotely feasible.

Here's what's most likely to happen to the Internet of Things in the future: It will exist, and it will bring numerous benefits to people -- but in small, limited and proprietary ways. But there will never be universal standards and interoperability. There will never be security. Some of our devices will work for us, and some will be hijacked and programmed to work against us.

That's bleak and pessimistic. But at this point, I don't see any other possibility.

The Internet of Things vision of all our stuff being smart and working seamlessly together for our benefit is wonderful. It's just never going to happen.


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