The recent stir around the Stuxnet malware definitely ups the ante as it pertains to the potential damage that a piece of software can invoke. For those of you not familiar with this recent finding, stuxnet essentially hunts down a specific Siemens programmable logic controller (something that facilitates electromechanical processes) and disrupts the timing of a specific control sequence. What’s the big deal? Well malware researchers believe that this control sequence is used by a larger system to maintain consistency of a reactor centrifuge. In other words, mess up the timing and your uranium enrichment process is no longer in a controlled state.
While stuxnet in of itself is a highly complex piece of malware, fast forward five years when the network addressable devices and programmable logic controllers are embedded in 70% of our daily lives. Network controlled building environmental systems, doors, alarm systems, stereo receivers, even refrigerators. The complexity of today’s stuxnet, while less common at the present, I’m predicting will be commonplace amongst hackers in the future. So while imploding a country’s nuclear enrichment objectives is cool, how much fun would it be to raise a high rise buildings heat on a summer day, set off 100 retailer alarm systems while a bank is being robbed or freeze everything in your refrigerator?
Where I’m going with this is that we are running out of time to get ourselves on the right path. The government knows that they can’t go about this alone. It’s time for the government to begin adapting some of the innovation happening in industry and not wait for perfection. Industry also, can’t go this alone and needs the government to drive the free market without impeding in how industry builds and designs technology. Just as politicians have never fought a war they shouldn’t try to build silicon and drive software development either. We must ensure that the future of our network addiction is not put at risk by industry and government collaborating in spite of themselves but in a means that respects each others core competencies. I can’t stand the thought of my Internet-enabled kegerator being rendered out of order on game day.