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Vint Cerf sees a big danger from the internet of things



One of the biggest challenges facing the internet could come from some of the smallest devices now connecting to it.

That’s the take of Vint Cerf, one of the original creators of the international network. He’s concerned about the growing number of everyday devices and objects that are being attached to the internet. Many of these internet of things gadgets, which range from security cameras to self-driving cars to connected thermostats and toasters, have already been shown to have serious software bugs or security flaws.

“There’s this avalanche of devices showing up … and they will be potentially hazardous,” Cerf, who is now Google’s chief internet evangelist, told Business Insider in a recent interview.

“The mistakes in programming may make the devices malfunction,” he continued. “And it could be innocuous — the lights don’t turn on or something — or it could be much more severe.”

Among the potential dangers he worries about is a connected or self-driving car getting into an accident because of a bug or because it’s been hacked.

Buggy software, of course, has been around since practically the beginning of the computer age. Indeed, Cerf has acknowledged that the internet itself was born with two big flaws— a lack of room for the billions of devices that would eventually be connected to it and no built-in security protocols.

Read this:The internet’s ‘father’ says it was born with two big flaws

There are lots of internet of things devices — and more are coming

What makes the so-called internet of things such a particular problem are both the sheer range and number of new devices connecting to the network , and the large collection of companies making them. Gartner, for example, has forecast that 14.2 billion connected devices will be in use this year and 25 billion by 2021.

Unlike with PCs or smartphones, there’s no dominant operating system or systems in the smart gadget market. While the vast majority run some version of Linux, multiple versions are in play and many are heavily customized by manufacturers. So Microsoft or Google or Apple can’t just issue an operating system update and protect the vast majority of devices all at once.

What’s more, manufacturers often don’t update the software underlying internet of things devices, especially for older models. So security holes and other flaws frequently are left unaddressed.

Those holes have been exploited in the past. In 2016, hackers took advantage of a security vulnerability in a line of connected security cameras made by a Chinese manufacturer to create a 1.5 million-strong botnet that they used to launch several denial of service attacks, including one on cybersecurity journalist Brian Krebs.

Even Google’s devices have had security problems

Some owners of Nest cams have reported that their devices were hijacked by hackers who broadcast alarming messages over their speakers.

There are at least two ways to attack the problem of buggy and insecure internet of things devices, Cerf said. One is to have tools that can go out and find devices that are running buggy software and fix them. Another is to help the programmers creating the software underlying these devices find the flaws before the gadgets are sold.

“There’s some serious research to be done there,” he said.

As it turns out, Google and other companies are already working on creating development tools that will help expose software flaws, Cerf said.

“I’m pretty … enthusiastic about that,” he said.

To be sure, even Cerf’s company has had problems when it comes to bugs and vulnerabilities in internet of things devices. Owners of webcams made by Google-owned Nest recently reported that hackers had taken control of the speaker in their camera to broadcast sometimes alarming messages. Google blamed the problem on compromised passwords.

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