When you bring up Edward Snowden in conversation, and if you do I suggest making sure you are ready for a long—if not heated—exchange, the opinions of him are quite polarized. People either believe him to be a hero for exposing the truth or a traitor for betraying his promise to the nation. Honestly, it’s difficult to draw a conclusion one way or the other, especially in light of where the National Security Agency is looking next to carry out intelligence gathering. With more and more connectivity happening between appliances, the NSA is researching ways to collect intelligence on the Internet of Things up to and including bio-medical devices.
The Internet of Things, as you know from previous blogposts here, refers to anything connected to the Internet beyond a phone or a computer. By connecting your appliances to cyberspace, be it a thermostat, a refrigerator, a smoke detector, a security camera, and devices like Amazon Echo (which I love), you can now control your home remotely, from your smartphone or tablet. Do you want your lights a certain hue? Who’s at the front door? Would you like a favorite playlist playing when you arrive home from the office? All these connected devices make your life easier, that much is obvious.
Thing is, they also open up additional avenues for hackers and government agencies—like the NSA—to collect data.
Security experts have raised concerns about the vulnerability of these devices. Many work on unencrypted signals, or broadcast your information over unsecured networks. Perhaps there is a prevailing attitude of who would want to hack a thermostat or infiltrate my refrigerator, but this lack of security means anyone can intercept the data with very little effort. Data, innocuous as it may seem, can reveal a lot about you. A lot. Your habits, your schedule, all sorts of little details that make up your life. How easy would it be to spy on you with household items?
Security cameras are now recording and uploading visual data to a cloud storage system that, experts argue, can be interrupted during the data transfer. Microphones found on Amazon Echo or your Xbox One systems, on account of no password protection, are as easily remote accessed as cameras on laptops. Now, casual conversations can easily be recorded. Even something as simple as a smart egg tray can tell surveillance teams when you go to the grocery store.
Now it looks like the NSA is trying to come up with a plan to tap into all that potential information.
In the future the NSA may be able to start bulk collection of data from the Internet of Things, much like they currently do with phone calls. They want to archive it, flag a few bits of it, if necessary. That way, if something nefarious comes up in your life, they’ll be able to go back to that bulk data, those moments they have flagged, pull it out to the forefront, and see what actually is happening with you in Present Day. Compare. Contrast. Compile.
That is something that is coming in the future.
This is the thing with the Internet, the good and the bad all in one. The amount of information and technology around us yields powerful new tools. There is also an amount of responsibility that comes with this convenience, and we as a society really should be mindful of privacy issues. Referring back to Snowden, privacy is something we are all entitled to. It’s not a privilege. It’s a right. The next wave of progress on the Internet will be more than just on better, more reliable communications. It’s going to be more about security and privacy, a maintaining of our lives and lifestyles without letting everyone else know about us unless we want to.
A research physicist who has become an entrepreneur and educational leader, and an expert on competency-based education, critical thinking in the classroom, curriculum development, and education management, Dr. Richard Shurtz is the president and chief executive officer of Stratfdord University. He has published over 30 technical publications, holds 15 patents, and is host of the weekly radio show, Tech Talk. A noted expert on competency-based education, Dr. Shurtz has conducted numerous workshops and seminars for educators in Jamaica, Egypt, India, and China, and has established academic partnerships in China, India, Sri Lanka, Kurdistan, Malaysia, and Canada.