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Welcome to the Internet of stupid (hackable) things

Jen A. Miller | Nov. 30, 2015
The rise of IoT technology brings with it the promise of innovation the likes of which we’ve never seen. But the reality of everything being connected can have unintended consequences, not all of them useful.

This Jeep is being towed, but it wasn't hacked.

It’s easy enough for technology writers to get breathless when writing about the Internet of Things. The headlines almost write themselves – a gee-whiz technology that takes “dumb” everyday objects, puts a chip into them, and makes them “smart.” And when everything is connected to and communicating with everything else, our lives will be immeasurably easier, infinitely more efficient and productive … yadda yadda yadda. 

Except, maybe, the Internet of Things is starting to show its flaws, not just in giving us things and connectivity that we don't really need, but also in creating security gaps that never would have existed before, and putting people and your company at risk. 

"It's better to have something not connected and secure than connected and unsecure," says Rob Enderle, technology analyst of the Enderle Group and regular contributor to CIO.com. "Security should come first and then connectivity, not the other way around." 

Useless links

+rehabstudio, a creative technology company that has worked with Google, Starbucks, Facebook and Twitter, created the (very satirical) Internet of Useless Things website to show how ridiculous those things can get. The project was inspired by attending the Consumer Electronics Show a couple years ago. 

"Every manufacturer had an Internet of Things product that didn't have any reason for it to be there," says Tim Rogers, founder and creative partner of +rehabstudio. "A lot of them didn't really make sense." The subhead of the website project: "Connected doesn't mean useful." 

His favorite item on the website is a bookmark. "Whenever you place it in the book, it stores the page number in the cloud. You get a text message if you want to know what page of the book you got up to," he says. "It's funny and useless." 

Rogers says that +rehabstudio created the website as part of one of the company's regular hack weeks, but to also showcase their principles of what makes a product useful: being smart and adaptable; designed for humans; secure and trustworthy; invent or improve; and apt and appropriate. 

Danger in hooking up

It's the "secure and trustworthy" principle that's tripping up some companies rushing to get the next new thing into the market, without creators of those products always thinking of the possible consequences. 

For Chrysler, those consequences have been costly. In July, two security researchers remotely got into the software – and took over the control – of a Jeep Cherokee, leading to the recall of 1.4 million vehicles

"That's a good example of [how] they just didn't think through the security aspects," says Enderle. 

 

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