03/04/2012 22:19 BST | Updated 03/06/2012 10:12 BST

The Internet of Things: Surfing Securely

We are living in a world of sophisticated modern conveniences. Computer chips, embedded in all aspects of our daily lives, have made it possible to have access to all kinds of information whenever and wherever we need it. These increasingly smart devices can now communicate with you and with each other in unprecedented ways. In fact, Ericsson predicts that by 2020 there will be 50 billion internet connected devices. The possibilities opened up by this 'internet of things' are endless.

But are we prepared for the connection of devices? This doesn't just include PCs, phones and tablets. Other wireless devices such as televisions, cars, medical devices and ATMs are starting to communicate too. And with the ability to communicate comes the risk of cyber attack.

Smart car, big cost

With 50 billion IP-connected devices by 2020, up from 1 billion just a year ago, the concept of a connected car does not come as a surprise. In fact, the Nevada legislature recently passed a law authorising executives at the state's department of motor vehicles to begin coming up with a set of rules of the road for autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles. Imagine taking a taxi, where there is no driver-just a computer at the wheel. Yet, as in-car internet becomes a reality, it exposes the automotive industry to the same threats as any other consumer device.

Caution, malware ahead

The Highway Code will always be there to tell you when to turn left, stop or yield. Unfortunately, there are no signs to guide you when manoeuvring the virtual, connected highway. Wireless devices like web-based vehicle-immobilisation systems that can remotely disable a car could potentially be used maliciously to disable cars belonging to unsuspecting owners. And you won't know what hit you until the malware strikes. There was a recent situation in Texas where it was reported that 100 vehicles were disabled from a remote disable system. The system had been installed by the car dealership, but was maliciously manipulated by a disgruntled former employee who remotely disabled the cars and wreaked havoc by setting off the car horns.

Hacking hurts

It's not just cars that can cause security issues. Imagine if something you depend on to keep you healthy was hacked by the bad guys? The result doesn't bear thinking about, but the threat is real. As more and more digital technology is introduced to cars, transport systems and medical equipment, the threat of malicious software and hardware manipulation increases. In 2008, academic researchers demonstrated an attack that allowed them to intercept medical information from implantable cardiac devices and pacemakers, causing them to turn off or issue life-threatening electrical shocks.

Virtual and physical

As our devices become more closely integrated with our personalised preferences or data, the opportunity for attackers to use this information for their personal gain is highly attractive. Not only is our physical safety at risk, with our cars and medical devices up for attack, but our virtual identities are too. And that's a big risk, when the average time it takes to repair the damage done by identity theft is 330 hours.

Secure innovation

As we increasingly live our lives over the internet, it's no surprise that the bad guys have moved their attacks online. The internet is a treasure trove of money and information that has proved irresistible to cyber-crooks. We have to get better at protecting ourselves if we want to slow cyber-criminals' success. We are living in a world of incredible modern conveniences, but as technology surpasses our wildest dreams, manufacturers and consumers alike need to be aware of the consequences of connecting our identities to one another, to ensure we maintain our privacy and personal security.