In the nascent "internet of things", security is the last thing on people's minds

Posted in: Legal & Security at 19/07/2015 20:59

Barbie has come a long way since Mattel, a big American toy firm, launched the plastic doll in 1959. If children wanted to give the original version a voice, they had to provide it themselves. The latest Barbie, unveiled at the New York Toy Fair in February, can do better. A built-in chip lets the doll listen as children address her. A wireless connection then sends what has been said off to other, beefier computers in a data centre somewhere, whose job is to interpret it and come up with an apt rejoinder. "Welcome to New York, Barbie," says a Mattel employee in a demonstration video. "I love New York, don't you?" responds the doll. "What's your favourite part about the city? The food, the fashion, the sights or the brothels?"

Well, of course, Barbie did not actually offer that last alternative. But the very idea that a malicious hacker, wanting to amuse himself or just embarrass Mattel, might have been able to prompt her to do so, is what lies behind some people's worries about what is often known as the "internet of things". Modern cars are becoming like computers with wheels. Diabetics wear computerised insulin pumps that can instantly relay their vital signs to their doctors. Smart thermostats learn their owners' habits, and warm and chill houses accordingly. And all are connected to the internet, to the benefit of humanity.

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