Pacemakers to power plants: is nothing safe?

Last updated: 11 April 2014

Those reading the world’s news bulletins over the past few weeks could be forgiven for asking themselves the question, ‘is nothing safe anymore?’. From Dick Cheney’s pacemaker to the power plants that supply the very lifeblood of our global economy, reports emerging recently have given the impression that almost anything is now vulnerable to attack.

There are various flaws to this theory, which we will examine in greater detail below, but in essence this all comes down to M2M, or the ‘internet of things’. Because so many things are now connected, the popular (mis)perception is that all of these things can be targeted by criminals, hackers and terrorists. Some believe that anything linked to the World Wide Web is as vulnerable as a laptop. To a certain extent this may be true, but it ignores the fact that secure M2M is not only possible, but in fact already in place all over the world.

What all of this shows is that, in order to truly succeed, M2M will need to address two key factors: security and trust. The first of these is simpler to achieve than the second. Opinions on whether it is even possible to hack a pacemaker are divided, and even so, the technology being developed to secure the internet of things is becoming more advanced with every month that goes by.

However, what is clearly not in place yet is complete trust. This takes far longer to build than any module or piece of software, and will only be truly established after many years of hard work. Building trust relies on the effective collaboration of numerous different factors to create an entire ecosystem which is secure and private. For Dick Cheney to question the security of his own pacemaker shows that trust is still not widespread in the world of M2M.

The technology to secure everything from smart grids to SIM cards/MIM  is already available but, in a new and rapidly evolving sector such as M2M, convincing the world of this may take more time.