Technology is a wonderful thing.
It can make our lives easier in many ways. Where would we be, for example, without the telephone?
But a recent news story made me wonder if perhaps we’re taking things a wee bit too far, too fast.
According to this report, security company Kaspersky
Labs was asked how to disinfect the onboard computers of several models of Lexus luxury automobile. It was told the computer viruses probably arrived via Bluetooth connections to cell phones. Kaspersky says it is researching the issues.
There are already known viruses infecting cell phones running the Symbian operating system; at the time, no-one seemed to know if the Lexus was also using this OS to manage its navigation system.
Lexus has since announced that its system is proprietary, and is not affected by Symbian-targeted viruses, so that little panic was a false alarm.
We do know, however, that Fiat is partnering with Microsoft to develop ways to use Bluetooth and cell phones to communicate with various systems in its vehicles. Communication, navigation and entertainment systems are the targets here, but there are plans to make them interoperate with the car’s diagnostics systems.
If the navigation or entertainment system is the only thing in the car capable of becoming infected, the threat descends to nuisance value – you could get very, very lost, or hear some strange music – but should that system be integrated with something more important, like the brakes, you could be very, very dead if something messes with the programming. And if there’s something with potential to be messed with, sadly, there is always somebody who will do it, whether out of malice, for profit, or even for “”fun””.
Paranoid? Yes, probably. But remember how the Slammer worm took 13,000 ATMs out of commission, literally within minutes? More recently, remember how the Skulls Trojan has been disabling Symbian-based mobile phones? Consider the spammers who think nothing of invading private computers, taking control of them and stealing their Internet connections to spew their garbage. There may or may not be more crooks and jackasses out there than there were ten years ago, but they’re so well connected thanks to our worldwide networks that the damage they do is much more widespread.
So does that mean we should stop the apparently all-consuming quest to have everything connected and online?
Not necessarily, but a pause is definitely in order, a pause during which we think seriously about the security of those ubiquitous connections. It may be very cool to have your cell phone talking to your car, and to be able to communicate with systems in your home over the Internet. It’s efficient and profitable to remotely control production facilities, or to use IP phones. But until those connections are much more intrusion-proof than they are today, it could also be also extremely dangerous.
We’re at a point where our love of technology is overriding common sense. Companies are rampaging ahead, gleefully deploying toys that aren’t ready, just to be first to market. Customers are equally joyously buying and installing those toys, so they can say they’re first on the block to have them. And they may be putting themselves, and their customers, at risk by doing so.