Security vs. Functionality

comparison of old and new phones

There has long been a sliding rule that says the more secure a solution is, the less usable it becomes. With a boom in the Internet of Things, or “IoT”, many hackers playing with rapid prototyping kits, hacker spaces in every major city, and 3D printing becoming a mainstay in most public areas, we need to pause and understand where the slide rule currently sits. As more and more elements of our daily lives are driven online, and the cost of convenience is driven down, we expose ourselves to risks not previously considered. Never before has it been possible to unlock your front door, preheat an oven or surveil a home all from a remote location. Never before has your TV put your privacy at risk.

While the consumer elements can provide additional creature comforts, they are also drivers towards what we want at work. Why not push for tools in the workplace which make life easier?

The reason is the sliding rule. When we choose to open elements of our home to the convenience of a cloud-based solution, the risk is primarily compartmentalized into the things within our control, and limited to our own personal sphere of potential loss. It is a fixed risk which affects mainly the individual consumer. When a decision is made to integrate similar technologies within a company, the result is a greater exposure of risk—at the corporate scale, and in many cases, the risk extends to potentially millions of customers as well.

A troubling trend is the focused desire to implement SCADA and Building Management System (BMS) solutions into bridged IP networks. Typically these controllers have been closed looped or air gapped designs, secured through isolation. They run older software which has limited upgrades behind it, and are not designed to stand up to the rigors of an untrusted environment. By marrying the ability to turn on a porch light for a house with the perceived need to control a critical infrastructure from the comfort of an IPad on the back deck, our core utilities are more at risk than ever.

As building engineers see the convenience of solutions offered through hardware stores, and push for these same integrations on a larger scale, the security community must be mindful of where the slide sits and assess the risks proportionally. It won’t be long before even the most mundane tasks are ported to the smart phone, but at what price to protection? There is an absolute benefit to access, immediate control, and newly discovered data points for analysis. These benefits need to be weighed against the risks of outages, loss of control, or even deliberate acts of malicious nature.