Google’s acquisition of Nest brings back memories from an old blog post I wrote a couple years back. One that was pontificating on the great advances in IP connected devices; way past phones, video game systems, video cameras, televisions to coffee machines, home lighting and HVAC, vehicle alarms, refrigerators, ovens, and heck, maybe toilets.
What a great world it will be when my refrigerator sends me a text message or posts to Facebook or OmniFocus that I need to buy milk and salami. It will be even better when I can log into my oven and tell it to turn on and cook a pot roast at 350 degrees for 4 hours so I come home to a great slow cooked meal or when my oven contacts the fire department when it lights my house on fire. I'm sure over time this great technology will be adopted by supermarkets to manage their nationwide chains remotely to ensure proper temperatures are maintained in their coolers and freezers and to then communicate with the refrigerator to automatically tell me when what’s missing is on sale.
We have already seen attacks from the virtual world affecting the physical world, so, wouldn't it be great if an attacker could shut down our refrigerators or the chillers and freezers in the Supermarkets? Imagine someone holding our fresh food supply hostage or just destroying it? Might it drive mass hysteria? Sure they could attack the power grids but we are all doing a lot of work to keep those safe. What are we doing to protect those things that we have come to take for granted that our society requires to maintain our current way of life?
Groups who aren't motivated by money, but seek to create chaos, would love an opportunity to let the world know that they controlled all these household devices and at their will they can destroy our food, lighting, ovens, etc. upsetting established society. City-State attacks are another venue for misuse of these types of products. Imagine going to war with a country that has a significantly smaller kinetic military but a powerful cyber force. They could not only attack the resources of our country but can now attack our homes, turning off heat in the winter in the North East, overloading our homes electrical systems, targeted military attacks in areas they want to affect.
This acquisition brings up not only these concerns but also the concerns that Google collects a considerable amount of information about users of its products and this data could be used for very serious attacks against users. The problem isn’t just Google and Nests to address; it’s the users as well. More and more we see users willing to give away personal data in exchange for services. People use iMessage, Gmail, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, giving little thought to the fact that they are sharing information about themselves that will be used by advertisers, marketing teams and government agencies to learn as much about them and everything they’re doing now both in the virtual and physical world. Philip Dick wrote many books that cautioned us on the increase in surveillance and the loss of privacy. We are willing participants in the loss of control of our information. We need to be as responsible, or at least care, with our data.
This is a large leap forward in the potential to wage war against civilians and lose privacy at a new level but also it could be a huge leap forward in the ability to improve our environmental effect, save money, reduce usage of natural resources and the positive side of targeted marketing, saving money on things you care about. It all comes down to Google, Next and those that follow in the wake of this massive deal, to be as responsible as possible and be more than just stewards of our data, they need to be the guardians putting forth the latest and greatest security to prevent attacks.