Why Businesses Need to Secure Connected Devices to Win Consumer Trust

October 24, 2016, 6:03 PM UTC
Oticon's Opn Internet-of-things-connected hearing aid.
Oticon's Opn Internet-of-things-connected hearing aid.

The Internet of things is dangerous. If anyone had doubts, just consider what happened on Friday when hackers took over millions of web-connected devices—security cameras, routers, and so on—and instructed them to knock out parts of the Internet.

The issue now is whether the government should do more to regulate the Internet of things (IoT), or if we can instead trust companies and the market to solve the problem. You won’t be surprised to learn companies favor the latter approach.

“With a brand comes responsibility, and hacking is a quality and reliability issue,” said Sami Nassar, the VP of NXP Semiconductors, who spoke at an event on Monday in New York, hosted by NASDAQ and the National Cyber Security Alliance.

Nasar pointed out that in the United States, security standards typically emerge as a result of major companies defining a network ecosystem and requiring other companies to meet those standards before they can enter it. (Apple’s HomeKit and Wink are good examples of this.)

Others at the event suggested the government may not be able to address IoT security in a timely or competent fashion.

“Very often regulation lags practice for many years,” said Andrew Lee, the CEO of security software company ESET, who added any government rules would have to account for the fact that some devices would have to be more regulated than others. For instance, a personal fitness device poses less of a threat than a router or a connected car.

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Lee also predicted the insurance industry, which has been a driving force for promoting safety in other industries, could soon force companies to improve their security standards.

Other solutions can come in the form of technology, according to Mo Katibeh, a senior vice president with AT&T (T) . He noted the telecommunications giant is already protecting its corporate customers, including those who use the IoT to track shipping, by deploying VPNs. (This ensures the customers’ IoT communications are not visible to the open Internet, and so are unlikely to be identified and captured by hackers.)

Meanwhile, Anthony Grieco, a trust strategy officer for Cisco (CSCO), tells Fortune the company invests heavily in third party certification, and practices transparency in order to maintain trust with its customers.

All of this suggests market forces and technology will play a major role in solving what is becoming a security crisis for the Internet of things—at least at the enterprise level. But for consumers, many of whom are ignorant about security and simply care about the lowest price, it probably won’t be long until regulators have to right to their rescue.

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