With each passing day, the world becomes more connected and the devices around us are becoming smarter and more autonomous. In today’s connected world we are seeing the beginning of connected homes, smart grids, self-driving automobiles, drones, and many other amazing devices. Out of all the soon-to-be connected devices, which device poses the greatest dangerous to its users and society?
When I pose this question to audiences during presentations I get a wide range of interesting answers. A few of the devices that are often mentioned are smartphones, autonomous vehicles, drones, smart watches, etc. Many of these devices do pose security and safety risks but society and developers are well aware of the risks and are working diligently to ensure these devices are secure and robust. So what device do I think is the most dangerous device?
The run-of-the-mill, Internet-connected coffee pot. You, reader, must be thinking that I’m joking, but while I suggest the Internet-connected coffee pot tongue-in-cheek, there is in fact interesting potential that the suggestion is not too far out in left field.
What’s the big deal about an Internet-connected coffee pot? A coffee pot simply needs to turn on the heater, turn off the heater, pour the coffee, and connect to the Internet. Given the tasks that a coffee pot needs to perform, we don’t need to be a rocket scientist to operate it; in fact, in most circumstances an intern or entry-level engineer will do. And that is exactly the problem!
Consider for a moment the four key design issues facing every Internet-connected device; safety, security, cost, and robustness. Entry-level engineers will certainly fit the bill to help keep development costs low. An entry-level engineer surely would be able to handle the basic robustness and safety aspects of turning the heater on and off. But what about security? Securing embedded systems can be a complex topic and should be handled by an expert.
Does an Internet-connected coffee pot really need to be secure? What’s the worst that can happen? Would a hacker really be interested in hacking someone’s coffee pot? I believe the answer is yes for a couple of reasons. First, imagine what would happen if a hacker were able to control a few million coffee pots around a metropolitan area and simultaneously turn on their 1,000W heaters. The instant surge in power demand could overburden the grid and potentially even cause it to fail, causing damage and power outages. Second, with access to millions of hacked devices, those network connections could be used to target other Internet-based systems that are vulnerable and of higher interest to hackers. Finally, it wouldn’t be a good day if millions of humans went about their day without getting their morning cup of joe.
What I’m getting at is that our society has become obsessed with connecting anything and everything to the Internet with little thought as to who is designing these devices and whether they have the right skills sets to ensure they are properly secured. Companies are trying to get to market as quickly and cheaply as possible and that means devices and security will not be perfect. Engineers are focused on securing and improving reliability of the obvious devices but the little common everyday devices we don’t think about are the ones that will pose the greatest threat to society.
Perhaps the Internet-connected coffee pot isn’t the most world’s most dangerous device. What do you think is the world’s most dangerous device and why? Tell us in the comments section below!
[image via Adobe Stock]
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Jacob Beningo is principal consultant at Beningo Engineering, an embedded software consulting company. He has experience developing, reviewing and critiquing drivers, frameworks, and application code for companies requiring robust and scalable firmware. Jacob is actively involved in improving the general understanding of embedded software development through workshops, webinars, and blogging. Feel free to contact him at email@example.com, at his website www.beningo.com, and sign up for his monthly Embedded Bytes Newsletter here.