By Marc Goodman
Published February 24, 2015
7 AM, October 21, 2106, the Internet suffered a major attack resulting in a number of major websites knocked offline and an overall web slowdown.
This was the result of a distributed denial of service attack, better known as DDOS.
What was interesting about this attack is that it was conducted using the Internet of Things, otherwise known as the IOT.
In layman’s terms someone was able to take control of many of our internet enabled devices, like your Fitbit, or internet enabled baby monitor or wifi printer or any other device you have connected to internet. These are the “things” of the IOT and are potential unwitting accomplices to nefarious hackers. In this case the perpetrator created an army of bots and attacked the internet.
That’s right, a good chance something you own took part in this DDOS attack.
This is not speculation, it happened.
The irony was not lost on me that the attack literally coincided with my reading Future Crimes, in particular the chapter on the poorly protected IOT.
Marc Goodman, in his preface to Future Crimes says that he will be labeled many things including alarmist. To a degree this is true but Mr. Goodman’s real message is that we need to start paying real attention to cyber security, not only at the business and government level but on a personal level as well.
His book is a warning and a wakeup call that that we need to do something now.
The reason for his urgency, and a theme through the book, is the exponential speed that machine learning and artificial intelligence is growing. Mr. Goodman gets this right and his alarm is justified. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are being put to work for good, but as I wrote in a previous article, there are many known and unknown challenges we must meet to harness the value for man. Exponential speed is not limited to the good guys and the bad guys are well aware of this; they’re using it to their advantage every day.
To get this point across, keep in mind that we now have major tests of driverless cars being conducted in Pittsburgh PA, all being run on artificial intelligence systems that continue to learn on their own. At a recent lecture I attended, Peter Pirolli of Parc, a Xerox Company, indicated that even the people who wrote the algorithms for these driverless cars have no idea how they actually work now that they have been released into the “wild”. The algorithms are learning and improving at exponential levels.
Mr. Goodman’s point is that systems like these are being used to hack your bank account, medical records etc. To date the bad guys have had great success, and Goodman has chronicled these to great length.
Future Crimes points out that one of the most challenging things we as a society face, is we rush in and adopt technology with no thought or consideration for the potential downsides that inevitably comes with it; we tend only to think of the benefits. This tendency then fuels the technology sector to focus on “getting the next release out” as fast as possible at the expense of strong, bug free code that is resistant to hacking.
If only we had the patience and wisdom of the Amish as Kevin Kelly explored in his book, What Technology Wants. The Amish are not opposed outright to new technology but they do vet it to an extreme level and only allow the technologies that assist if they do not negatively impact what they value most, namely the family.
Future Crimes is loaded with real world stories of internet crimes conducted against both institutions and individuals as well as speculation on how new crimes could be conducted in the near future. The book at times can become an emotional burden.
On a positive note not everything in Future Crimes is coming true, at least not for now. The speed that wearable devices (e.g. Google Glass) is being adopted in nowhere near the pace predicted in the book and the vulnerability at scale that Mr. Goodman envisions has not materialized.
Continuing on the positive side of things Mr. Goodman is not all doom and gloom. Coming very late in the book he recounts that good people in the world outnumber the bad on an exponential level and we have the ability to do great things with technology. To defeat the bad guys, he calls for greater cooperation between private and public sectors as well as for the establishment of civil cyber defense corps and a Manhattan Project level commitment from the US Government amongst other things to drive this.
He also outlines what individuals can do to protect themselves. In a nutshell, besides changing our passwords from “password” or “123456789”, we need to get street smart fast, because overall we are bunch of nubes lost in a real dangerous part of town…and we don’t even know it.
The version of the book I “read” was an audio edition. If not for a good deal of prior knowledge on the subject the audio version of the book would have overwhelmed me. A reviewer in the NY Times had a similar experience and resorted to buying a print edition to read along with. Future Crimes is information dense if nothing else.
Overall, Future Crimes get four stars with the fifth only withheld as result of the information density and potential to overwhelm, the reader. It is a must read for everyone and required if you want to move into the future with your eyes open.