To most, a computer is a desktop machine, laptop or server. More recently, we have come to recognise that our mobile phones, tablets and gaming consoles are also computers, as are any objects with the word "smart" -- televisions and watches. As the investor Marc Andreessen famously noted in 2011, "software is eating the world." In other words, the physical objects in our world are slowly transforming into information technologies, a phenomenon referred to as the internet of things (IoT).
The possibilities of the IoT are significant -- your Nest thermostat will save you money on your energy bill, your Fitbit will carefully monitor your activity and your car will drive itself (and you) to the office. The IoT is expected to be worth $11 trillion (£7.1tn) to the global economy by 2025, as actories modernise, city infrastructures go online, and the world of logistics is completely transformed. Intel estimates 200 billion new objects joining our global information grid by 2020.
But let's remember all of these devices are also computers and, to date, no computer has been built that could not be hacked. In July 2015, hackers remotely commandeered a Jeep Cherokee as it drove down a highway at 110kph and killed its engine mid-stream, bringing the vehicle to a halt. Modern automobiles are no longer purely mechanical devices: each has hundreds of computer chips in them, controlling everything from airbags to windscreen wipers. Today's cars are nothing more than computers we ride in.
Computers that we fly in are also subject to hacking. Recently, the FBI detained a computer security researcher who claimed to have accessed data from a United Airlines flight's engines, mid-flight, while seated on an aircraft as it flew from Chicago to Denver. The breach reportedly occurred when the hacker plugged his own laptop into an available port underneath his seat, bypassing the in-flight entertainment system software to access the plane's flight management system.
The possibilities for disaster are manifest. In this brave new world, when cybercrime goes 3D, identities aren't stolen -- lives are lost.
By: Marc Goodman
Marc Goodman is a global security adviser and futurist,
founder of the Future Crimes Institute, and author of Future Crimes (Bantam Press)
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