Connectivity Spawns New Security Threats

Monday, 7 May 2012 | 4:56 PM ET
Andreas Schlegel | Getty Images

Computers and smartphones aren’t the only devices prone to security threats anymore. Smart TVs, smart cars, even homes with smart meters could potentially be hacked.

As more gadgets, cars, appliances, medical devices and even industrial systems become connected to the Internet, they also become open to the possibility of cyber-attacks. The potential for harm could be vast.

“There are national security issues, fear-mongering scenarios people can paint," said Tom Thomas, senior development manager, Symantec. "They are not exaggerated, these are actually things that can happen."

The security issues encompass vast market segments and arenas, including health care, manufacturing, utilities, sewage and more, Thomas said. Malware— a generic term for the various ways your PC can be infected, compromised and crippled — can attack a device or system and take over some functionality, capturing private information that it shouldn’t have access to, he said.

The “connected world” of machine-to-machine technology (M2M), which is the technology that allows both wireless and wired systems to communicate with other devices, is a topic that will be discussed at CTIA this week, as attendees question how to ensure security.

“There are many existing devices that are new smart devices that are joining the network and growing at a very fast rate,” Thomas said. “We want to have people navigate the connected world, but we want people to feel comfortable doing it.”

Growth in M2M connections is expected to grow to 161 million by the end of 2012, and is projected to reach 390 million connections by 2014, according to Harbor Research. Wireless companies are the ones driving the growth in the M2M space, said Lynette Luna, senior analyst for Current Analysis.

AT&T and Vodafone are the two global leaders in the space, with Verizon coming in a close third, according to a recent report by Current Analysis.

Despite growth, there is still considerable fragmentation in the industry, Luna said.

Luna, who is hosting a panel on M2M technology at CTIA, said there is not a lot of standardization in the industry yet. That issue, along with security and regulation concerns, as well as the benefits of a connected life, will be discussed at the conference.

“Security and privacy issues shouldn’t be overlooked. I think a lot of times people look at security as something that limits what they want to do, but that’s not case,” Luna said. “It gets a little complicated when we are in this heterogeneous network.”

email: tech@cnbc.com

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