One of the blessings of the New Gilded Age is that everything is interconnected. Unfortunately, security is only as strong as the weakest link. It turns out that cheap webcams are really weak links.
In 2016, hackers exploited a security flaw in inexpensive webcams, DVRs and other connected things. They rounded-up these devices and pointed all of them at Dyn, a key Internet services company, demanding bandwidth. Then, one by one, large swathes of the web started going dark. Consumers were miffed. Security managers freaked out.
Sure, this time it was Netflix, Twitter, Spotify and parts of Amazon. Next time, who knows? Maybe it’s part of the power grid. Maybe it’s a key telecommunications hub. This is serious.
The core systems that keep the Internet running have been under attack for a while. Bruce Schneier is the chief technology officer at Resilient Systems, an IBM unit. He’s also one of the leading cyber security experts in the US, and a frequent guest to Capitol Hill to provide insight. He believes complex and targeted attacks are the work of foreign nations.
“It feels like a nation’s military cyber-command trying to calibrate its weaponry in the case of cyberwar,” warns Schneier. “It reminds me of the U.S.’s Cold War program of flying high-altitude planes over the Soviet Union to force their air-defense systems to turn on, to map their capabilities.”
That should sound familiar. Intelligence agencies say Russian hackers meddled in U.S. presidential election. Now Congress is involved, too.
Washington politicians rarely agree. Network security is different. Mix in the Russians, computers and terrorism and suddenly pols from both sides of the aisle want to get tough.
TIS Group notes: “New, bipartisan efforts to deter and defend against cyberattacks … widespread agreement on the importance of information technology superiority. The spending in these areas will be stupendous.”
According to the research firm Gartner, the market for cyber security software and services is now about $75 billion. It expects the market will reach $170 billion by 2020.
Major pentagon contractors like Lockheed and Northrop Grumman have been surprisingly adept in the New Gilded Age. They have always been major players in cybersecurity. Entire clandestine units have existed for decades.
And they’re playing an important new role in the physical world, too. They are leading the push toward digital, away from analog. That allows them to bring the whiz-bang algorithmic modelling developed for military unmanned aerial vehicle programs to American cities.
Fancy cameras are already being married to bespoke software packages and fitted into fleets of low flying aircraft. It all sounds very creepy. Imagine an eye in the sky recording the public movements of every man, woman and child. Now imagine what those eyes could do to crime rates and terrorism. Imagine how appealing that would be in the current political climate of angst and fear.
The public may even welcome more eyes looking for bad guys. That would be full circle from the bad guys using our own webcams as weapons.
The new age of total surveillance may still sound like a sci-fi movie plot, but it’s more real than you can imagine. And as terrible as it is for privacy, it is a boon for investors in cybersecurity, military technology, cameras and surveillance software.