Spread of ‘stupid’ IoT devices could be ‘asbestos of the future’

A cybersecurity researcher has warned that a flood of consumer IoT devices with little benefit could leave us open to disaster.

The Mirai botnet was but one of many massive cyberattacks launched using internet-of-things (IoT) devices. Rather than being sophisticated attacks using secure systems, many were orchestrated using household smart devices with little-to-no security built in by their manufacturers.

A recent report from the cybersecurity research firm F-Secure has found that such attacks have not decreased, but have actually surged 300pc in traffic, amounting to almost 3bn events.

Now, speaking with data analysis firm GlobalData, F-Secure’s chief research officer, Mikko Hyppönen, has warned that the proliferation of “stupid” IoT devices will be the “IT asbestos of the future”.

The parallel he draws refers to the use of asbestos in construction throughout the 1960s and 1970s which, while heralded at the time, has now been found to be carcinogenic if inhaled.

‘This is what our kids will hate us for’

In suggesting that almost everything using electricity will be hooked into IoT networks, Hyppönen said that while this might seem like a good idea now, it could have major implications in years to come and is the result of technology “going in the wrong direction”.

“I think this is dangerous. It’s very dangerous for our privacy. It’s dangerous for our security,” he said. “This is going to be the IT asbestos of the future. This is what our kids will hate us for.

“As connectivity becomes cheaper and cheaper, eventually, it’s not going to be just smart things going online, it’s going to be stupid things. I’m actually much more worried about stupid things online than smart things.”

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Speaking of who benefits from such a proliferation of devices, Hyppönen pointed to the tech companies manufacturing these devices.

“For tech companies this data will be valuable – the time you toast, your favourite settings, how many people are making toast around the world, the country that makes the most toast, and so on,” he said.

“However, there is an asymmetry in value for the consumer and for the company and when the security risks are factored in, it becomes a pretty bad deal for consumers.”

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