Big Brother May Not Be The Problem

In Nasa Tech Briefs, there was a little blurb about household robot security. So I dug down to the original paper by Tamara Denning, a grad student at the University of Washington. Turns out that personal robots could be a real security risk.

What Tamara and her co-authors (Cynthia Matuszek, Karl Koscher, Joshua R. Smith, and Tadayoshi Kohno) wrote about was some household robots that offer wireless or IR local access and can be used as household monitors, so they have video cameras and microphones. In general, they found that the security behind the units wasn’t up to snuff, especially if one didn’t put them on a secure network connection. So the device that one bought to make sure that nothing is going on at one’s own home could in fact be used by others with less good intent to see what’s in there that’s worth taking, or petty vandalism (by knocking stuff over and the like).

WowWee Rovio Mobile Webcam
WowWee Rovio Mobile Webcam

You can read the UW news release here or the full paper here.

But really, this is yet another example of technology outpacing lots of stuff. Here, the technology is really a combination of web cams, portability, remote control and the Internet. It’s outpacing the security and privacy frameworks needed for safe use of the technology.

Another example of this is genetic testing. It can provide information about future risks (like the BC1 tag for breast cancer) when knowing this may expose one to reduced access to health insurance.

And we’re all aware of the privacy vs security issue of having phone calls monitored without a warrant in the name of searching for terrorists. (OK, this last one is Big Brother!)

But the authors of the study say all is not lost. Practical steps can be taken to minimize the security and privacy risks inherent to the little robots. Most of it is just common sense (don’t use them on open networks, limit the amount of time that they are on, etc.) But even with these common restraints, gizmos like this will be more prevalent in the future. Someone somewhere will always be watching. I’m not sure I’m happy with that.

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One thought on “Big Brother May Not Be The Problem”

  1. If you think that home robots are a problem…there’s quiet some servies around that let you track basically any cell phone on this planet. Normally this requires acknowledgement from the target phone, but as much as I heard this can be spoofed easily. While this is cool for checking if the wife is shopping for shoes, it’s somewhat scary.

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