How Old Technologies Affect the Internet of Things

TOKYO⎯People who launch satellites know the dangers of space junk. Parts of old rockets and other derelict craft circle the Earth, sometimes crashing into expensive new gear. Just as in outer space, so a similar danger lurks in cyberspace. “Cyber debris”⎯routers, webcams and other devices that are no longer used but are still online⎯offer a tempting target for hackers. With the growth of the internet of things, the problem is set to spread to everyday appliances such as washing machines, microwave ovens and refrigerators.

The paragraph above, from an article in the Nikkei Asian Review, reveals a vexing issue in the Internet of Things field, one that promises to wreak havoc on products for years to come.

Imagine instructing your dishwasher to begin its cleaning cycle and the unit defies you by sending you a text that reads something like, “You haven’t washed a dish in months, its your turn.” For now, it’s out of the question. But what if AI develops its own innate sense of humor? The plausibility of hackers getting into a system, taking it over and driving the user off of a cliff in his or her autonomous vehicle is not without basis. Those who remember the malware called “Mirai” will recall the a mess it created in 2016. It has returned to attack internet-connected devices.

Mirai can spread automatically from one unprotected IoT device to another. In a massive attack in October 2016, some 400,000 devices were reportedly infected, taking down popular online services such as Netflix, a U.S. movie streaming company. Market researcher IHS Technology estimates the number of devices using IoT technology will reach 53 billion by 2020. Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology reported in December that its monitors had detected a fifty-fold increase in cyberattacks targeting connected devices in recent months. It laid the blame on a modified version of “Mirai,” malware that caused significant disruption online worldwide in 2016.

Security cameras are seen on a building at the Bund in Shanghai, China. Outdated cameras are easily used by hackers to launch cyberattacks. © Reuters

Of course every country is working on solving the problem of older technologies being just smart enough to make a mess for emerging technologies. The IoT boom is going to open some old and new doors together in the cyber-verse, and what walks through them may be hackers and/or malware. Akira Sakaino, an IoT expert at Japanese telecom NTT Communications, said the private sector alone cannot ensure online security.