Internet of Things: Defence warns more devices means more risks

Vulnerabilities create opportunities for R&D and collaboration, says chief defence scientist

Chief Defence Scientist Alex Zelinsky (left) and Blackbird Ventures managing director Bill Bartee. Credit: Adam Bender

Chief Defence Scientist Alex Zelinsky (left) and Blackbird Ventures managing director Bill Bartee. Credit: Adam Bender

As the Internet of Things expands, industry and government must collaborate to bolster security of critical systems, according to Alex Zelinsky, chief defence scientist at the Department of Defence.

“We are increasingly going to become more reliant on the ... Internet of Things,” Zelinsky said in a panel at the Tech23 conference today in Sydney. However, that trend also means that “we are increasingly reliant on a vulnerable system,” he said.

“It’s not just about the penetration of computer systems and stealing secrets,” he said. Rather than take data, a hacker could change the data to devastating effect, he said.

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This is especially a threat for defence, banking, energy and water systems, Zelinsky said. “Disturbing these systems could have profound national security concerns.”

About 88 per cent of banking transactions in Australia are electronic, he said. “Can you imagine what would happen if you could not use electronic transactions and had to rely on cash for a short period or even a long period of time?

“The same thing goes with electricity grids—they could be shut down very quickly through a cyber denial or even a penetration.”

While “scary”, these potential weaknesses open the door for research and development on how to create greater protections and resiliency around the Internet of Things, Zelinsky said. “Actually, it’s an opportunity to create business and new technology.”

Solving the problem is not up to Defence alone, he said.

“Not all the knowledge resides in any one organisation. We’ve got tough problems we need to solve. I’m actually very much interested in having a much more open, collaborative system where people come together to work through some of the problems…

“It’s actually [about] starting to come together with companies, with other agencies, to solve these problems because they are on a scale that actually defeats one organisation doing it by itself.”

Other panellists agreed that the number of devices in the Internet of Things will quickly multiply.

The technology has become so sophisticated and miniaturised that Internet connectivity “really can go in everything,” said Andrew Birt, co-founder of LIFX, an Australian startup that has developed a Wi-Fi-enabled LED light bulb.

Demand for connected devices is here and it’s global, Birt said. Through a Kickstarter campaign, the 14-month-old startup has received $10 million in preorders and sold to people in 63 countries around the world, he said.

The Internet of Things is “going to become bigger and bigger,” said Bill Bartee, managing director of Blackbird Ventures. He cited an Intel report saying there will be 31 billion connected devices by 2020.

“In five years, we won’t talk about the Internet of Things anymore, because these will be givens.”

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

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