For the first time since January 2021, IOT conversations in the media and on social channels trended downward on Big Valley’s Top Conversations in Tech list in May. IOT ranked No. 38, down three spots from April and below where it ranked as far back as February (No. 37). That said, the topic also registered a slight increase in coverage volume month over month – from 23,878 stories to 24,080.
Of course, one of May’s biggest stories – in fact, one of the year’s biggest stories – was, as is often the case, an IOT story that never mentioned the term “IOT.” The Colonial pipeline hack is a stark reminder that for all of its promise, an internet of connected things, whether those things be banks, hospitals, airplanes, energy companies or all of the above, has a downside. More connections mean more vectors for hackers to attack. And given that Colonial, perhaps rightfully, paid the ransom, hacking into IOT connections for ransom has now become an epidemic.
The story has blown into an international scandal, with the Putin-Biden summit this month being a referendum, in part, on whether one leader will police his people (presuming he wants to) or if the other will need to do it for him (presuming that he’s willing to). Russia – or Russians, depending on who you believe – is responsible for the attack, as has been the case with other recent IOT shenanigans.
As the Wall Street Journal wrote, Colonial and the rest of the energy industry “is a big target (for ransomware), with 2.5 million miles of pipelines and a vast array of sensors, valves, leak-detection tools and other systems linked not only to pipelines but also to refineries and power plants.” And of course, many of those sensors and leak-detection tools are, by design, connected to the web. You don’t want to patrol thousands of miles of pipeline for a leak if a simple sensor can tell you where it is before you even know it exists.
The answers are far from simple – technologically or geopolitically. Those who have less control over the internet (read, anyone other than the United States or its allies) have motive way beyond hefty ransoms to mess with those in control. And money can’t fix everything. The Journal reported that Colonial spent billions on upgrades before the hack, including $200 million on IT. And that still didn’t protect them. Simply put, as with all technology, we can’t simply build an IOT. We need to build a reliable, secure and safe IOT.