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IoT could cause a worldwide catastrophe, warns Bruce Schneier

Smart cities are dangerous for everyone, security expert says

city at night

Security technologist and author Bruce Schneier has expressed his concern about smart cities and the IoT, saying allowing technology to rule our lives could end in catastrophe.

"With the advent of the Internet of Things and cyber-physical systems in general, we've given the internet hands and feet: the ability to directly affect the physical world," Scheiner wrote in an article on Motherboard. "What used to be attacks against data and information have become attacks against flesh, steel, and concrete."

He said there are three elements that could potentially allow hackers to take over the world and launch a large-scale attack on humans: software controls, interconnections and autonomy.

Schneier explained that as more things become controlled by software, it means they can be attacked in the same way as computers. Because the hardware used to deploy IoT systems is cheap, but built to last, patches have not been introduced that will fix security holes - the only way to make them resistant to attacks is buying a new router that boasts the latest software.

He went on to explain that because of the IoT connecting millions of devices with one another, each new object connected to a network becomes a chance for hackers to break in to the wider network.

"Systems are filled with externalities that affect other systems in unforeseen and potentially harmful ways," Schneier said. "What might seem benign to the designers of a particular system becomes harmful when it's combined with some other system.

Autonomy has an impact because it means anything can be actioned instantly, without human intervention. He said the more we remove humans from the process, the more likely it is that an attack will happen without warning.

However, he said governments are starting to take notice of the threat, which is a positive thing. They are pumping money and resources into mitigating risks that were highlighted in a report by the US Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper.

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