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Held for ransom by the digital 'mob'

Taylor Armerding | Jan. 6, 2015
Everybody has heard of business owners forced to pay "rent" to mobsters to ensure that their building doesn't "accidentally" burn to the ground or suffer some other deliberate misfortune.

"As an industry, we have not been able to convince general consumers to change their password from 'password' to something meaningful," he said. "What are the odds that we will convince them that the dangers of running Internet services on a moving automobile might be more important then the convenience of listening to Pandora on their sound system? Not high I think."

The future doesn't necessarily have to be that bleak. But experts say there will have to be greater security consciousness from manufacturers, better awareness from consumers, and a willingness from both to invest in it.

Howard said he sees, "a huge opportunity for some entrepreneur who can build the infrastructure for the IoT to run on. This will probably fall to the big guys like AT&T and Verizon. They could provide safe and secure connection services to all those IoT manufacturers."

Arlen said it is possible to create a more secure online world, but it will take money. "There are plenty of firms able to help ensure security from the silicon up through to the service," he said. "It just requires that they decide to invest up front. Currently, this is not a pressure being applied by angel or seed investors."

Consumers can also take measures to avoid being the so-called "low-hanging fruit" as well, they said.

"You don't have to succumb to the thieves of the world," Shaker said. "If consumers protect themselves with an endpoint security solution, don't play with the settings and keep it running right, your percent chance of being compromised go way down. Most of it (consumer malware) is automated, not targeted.

Arlen has similar advice, but notes that it will come at a price. "Don't settle for 'cheap equals good,'" he said. "When consumers demand things like 'five nines,' (99.999% availability) dual WAN redundant firewall/router, UPS (uninterruptible power supply), commercial scale/grade WiFi, and the like, we get to the point where good security can happen.

"This is going to turn into a $2,000 capital investment and $200 a month in services, but compared to the WiFi box you got at Wal-Mart for $14.95 that will never be patched, or the thing the Telco gave you that 'does everything in one box' and is never patched, it's the difference between not being held hostage and where you'd better get really good at using Bitcoin from your neighbor's computer."

Howard said he doesn't think either manufacturers or consumers are at that point, however. "Something significant has to happen to the space — some event where a large portion of the population is affected — before this will change," he said. "For example, if people start dying because hackers compromise moving automobiles, that might cause the industry to do something."


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