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CIOs visualize an imminent IoT security storm

Chee-Sing Chan | May 30, 2014
If media reports and technology vendors are to be believed, then the world of artificial intelligence, smart cities, and a life of automated-everything is just around the corner. The surge of hype around the Internet of Things (IoT) has stolen the thunder of big data and cloud, the last two technology trends dominating headlines.

"Besides the passengers and people we serve, we also want to track the movement and status of objects and equipment within the airport," said Bien.

The Airport Authority is already a world leader in the adoption of RFID for luggage-tracking and Bien predicts that by the time the planned Hong Kong Airport expansion is complete, technology advances will be key to enabling a more dynamic operation than the one he oversees today.

But on the security challenges of IoT, he believes the key issues are identity management and governance. "Technologies, devices, protocols and access methods change constantly, but to stay on top of security we must remain consistent in the management and governance of these changes," said Bien. "Establishing the proper standards and controls from the beginning is critical in enabling this new world of connected devices."

Identity and control

RFID-tagged baggage is currently used only at Hong Kong Airport, but Bien suggests that, in the near future, we might see permanent RFID tagging of bags — which could be further connected to a number of applications, such as frequent-flyer programs. The challenge in this scenario according to Bien: what standards are required to authenticate identity and control access?

Christoph Ganswindt, executive director of IT, Hong Kong Jockey Club, agreed that the standards issue hinders wider adoption of new technologies like RFID. He also raised the issue of data protection concerns when these higher levels of connectivity are finally enabled.

"Right now it's great for the Hong Kong Airport Authority to implement an RFID system to track baggage," he said, "but that's of no use when that bag arrives at another airport. There needs to be global standards for these use-cases to realize their potential value."

Ganswindt added that the industry has evolved greatly in making sensor technology like RFID more prevalent and standardized, but much more needs to be done to make IoT a reality.

The HKJC director gave the example of BMW, which has installed sensors and embedded SIM cards in their cars since 2002. In Germany, every BMW vehicle's embedded SIM allows the manufacturer to monitor the vehicle for speed, distance, location and other data, but this feature isn't activated in Hong Kong.

"The question: when this is activated [in Hong Kong], what will BMW do with the data?" said Ganswindt. "I bet insurance companies and the police will be interested in this information, but what about data privacy and data integrity?"

"This is a huge issue for the ongoing development of these technologies," he said. "As someone on the board of a company, I would be cautious — I'd ask questions like: 'Do I really need this device connecting to the Web, and is the risk greater than the benefit?'"


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