Wearable tech: the next frontier for big data

The idea behind so many business people ditching their company smartphones for their own is BYOD Bring Your Own Device. At first this was a trickle of early adopters wanting to use their own devices, but it soon became a steady stream only for the IT departments to often respond with a resolute 'no'. Pressure steadily built up and soon the demand was not just from the rank and file, but from CEOs as well, for whom 'no' was not an option. At this point a technical solution for supporting consumer mobile devices had to be found and consumer devices flooded the workplace.

It's looking increasingly likely that this is all about to happen again. This time it is wearables. In fact, ABI research predicts that the wearables market is set to reach $18bn in the next five years.

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Wearable technology has been around for a few years but recently it seems to be gathering more momentum. Whether it's fitness bands, smart watches, Google Glass or even a ring, so-called wearable technology is making headlines. It makes sense; technology has become an integral part of most of our lives. Not only can these devices act as a natural extension of the devices we already regularly use, but they are designed to provide and collect information in a more natural way.

Unfortunately with every wave of new technology we see new security threats. We're already seeing how the explosion of connected devices - the so-called Internet of Things - has opened up security vulnerabilities. Furthermore, not only is there a new security concern but a host of privacy issues as well.

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The deeply personal nature of wearables may well make them a very attractive proposition to cybercriminals. While the tiny screen, processor and memory means that not much data will be on the device, the data will typically be the most important bit. It might not have all your emails, but it will have the subject lines and senders' names. It might not have your entire calendar but it will tell a hacker who you met recently, along with where and when. It might not have your company's entire sales pipeline but it could have alerts for where you are relative to the quarter's targets.

Beyond the data that you already have on your phone or tablet, wearable devices are collecting a host of extra information. Detailed GPS logs don't just reveal where you go and how fast you jog; they reveal which ATMs you stop at and which medical clinics you have visited. Heart rate and motion monitors are great for tracking health -- but they can also reveal a lot about your private life. Access to your wearable devices will be valuable commodity for identity thieves and maybe even blackmailers.

With all this sensitive data on wearable devices, designers need to think about security before they build these things, rather than after. This means having expert involvement early on. However, making the device more secure when they have tiny screens and minimal user interfaces is a tough job. What's the point of getting alerts on your wrist if you can't see them until you tap in the right password on the tiny watch face?

When it comes to security, wearable technology is not all bad news. As well as risks, they present a number of new opportunities too. If I can count on users having small, smart, personal devices with them at all times then I can use that as part of the way that I can identify the user. For example, we have already built demonstrations using FitBit wristbands and Pebble watches to allow for easier log-in to protected data on your phone or tablet - and we can automatically lock the data again if you walk away from your device (or leave it in the back of the taxi).

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What about for businesses? We are already thinking about what wearable devices will mean for companies and what the appropriate controls would be. If you keep your enterprise data in separate, encrypted containers on your phone or tablet then it is possible to control where it goes next. That can mean controlling the flow of alerts to smart devices as well as controlling the flow of data between apps. Fine-grain policy controls will let you trade off the risks and rewards of using these new devices.

Just like the first wave of BYOD, BYOW is coming into the enterprise – and it's coming sooner than you think.

Nicko van Someren is Chief Technology Officer at Good Technology