Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Internet of Things. (Wake up, baby, this is NOT all for the good.)

I have a “smart thermostat”.

I haven’t actually done anything particular smart with it.

It is set up so that it sends me an e-mail every time I make an adjustment. (Thanks for letting me know that I just turned “cool” off! It’s certainly possible that I could have experienced a senior moment between going downstairs to adjust the thermostat, and moseying upstairs to enjoy that “cool” being off. So I guess it’s good to get the information via e-mail.)

But I have yet to sign up for the really smart thing to do, which would be to turn on, or up, or down, the HVAC system when I’m an hour or so away from home. That way, I wouldn’t have to experience the complete and utter inconvenience of having to wait for a freezing 66 degree or sweltering 76 degree condo to get to just the right level of comfy cozy.

Other than that smart thermostat – which will get smarter only if I apply some of my smarts to figuring out how to remotely operate it – I’m just not all that into the Internet of Things or, as we in the trade say, the IOT. (Unless you count things like laptops, wireless routers, and Kindles…)

I say “we” because, while I personally have precious little to do with IOT, I do have a client whose business is involved in the technical underpinnings that support it.

I write their weekly blog post, and, in the past year or so I’ve written about smart cars, trucks, trains, medical devices, front door locks, basketballs, soccer goal scoring, and, yes, thermostats.

All part of the marvelous IOT, which Cisco is forecasting will grow, Carl Sagan style, to 50 billion connected devices by 2020.

Is all this smart IOT stuff making us any smarter, let alone happier, more productive, more secure?

Hard to say, but having every inanimate object around you suddenly smartening up is not without risk.

ONE NIGHT IN April a couple in Ohio was woken by the sound of a man shouting, “Wake up, baby!” When the husband went to investigate, he found the noise was coming from a web-connected camera they had set up to monitor their young daughter while she slept. As he entered her bedroom, the camera rotated to face him and a string of obscenities poured forth. (Source: The Economist.)

This hyper-vigilant dad had apparently not changed the factory-issued password, opening up the family to being punkeChuckyd by some jerk with nothing better to do than wake up babies and scare the bejesus out of new parents. (As if being new parents wasn’t scary enough, now they have to worry about being tortured by some remote Chucky…)

Unless it gives you a heart attack, having someone take over your webcam is probably not going to kill you. (Or course, having some creep with videos of what’s going on in what we once quaintly referred to as “the privacy of your own home” is not exactly a pleasant thought.) But someone seizing control of your smart car and driving you off the road could. As could someone who decides to amp up your heart pump, which was how the VP was killed in Homeland a couple of seasons back.

It all sounds rather worrying, but so far there has been no known case of a cyber-attack in which a car has been forced off the road or a medical device misappropriated.

Phew! But, hey, it’s probably just a matter of time before something gets seriously and dangerously hacked.

While most of what “they” are after (other than the sheer sporting fun of waking up baby) is your passwords and the ability to use you as an unwitting spammer.

That is annoying enough, but what if a tech-savvy arsonist were to find a way of, say, taking control of home boilers and turn them up so much that they burst into flames?

I’ll have to take all this into account when I replace my appliances during my upcoming (some day, anyway) kitchen remodel.

Buying smart tech may be unavoidable, but I just may figure out some way to dumb it all down.

I don’t want a hacker turn all the lo-cal fudge pops in my freezer into mush. Or boil the bottom out of my teakettle, something I have proven I am capable of on my very own unconnected own.

Hackers could turn on my shower and flood the whole place. They could blast Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo at high decibel, so that my neighbors can be lead to erroneously believe that I actually watch this show. (I’d rather watch Extreme Couponers, thank you very much.)

Something to be said for embracing the inner Amish Luddite…

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