The fuss surrounding the now recalled Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phone didn’t really impact me. I use a BlackBerry, and there have been no reports of those phones catching fire. Then I read Jeffrey Deaver’s latest novel, The Steel Kiss, and now I am feeling a little paranoid. Maybe our phones are out to get us.
Or refrigerators, microwaves and cars for that matter. It is getting so you don’t know what you can trust these days. It used to be all you had to worry about was bad people, now it is also “smart” appliances.
I enjoy Deaver’s mysteries, though I usually save them for my annual August beach visit. This time though the book was just sitting on the shelf at the library, and I was in the mood for light reading, so I grabbed it. Made a nice change from Sharia law, which is what I have been reading about lately.
Unfortunately the book didn’t turn out to be light reading; it got me thinking about society and our use of technology.
The story hinges around a serial murderer whose weapon of choice is ordinary things no-one would expect to be dangerous, such as a gas stove or microwave oven. We use such appliances daily and never think twice about how they are made. When we pick up a new appliance we are usually delighted when it has diagnostic and internet capability. After all, it is a time saver if my fridge can order its own replacement light bulb should the one inside burn out.
The drawback is that the connection isn’t one way, something I have already noted with my vehicle which sends me an email if it feels sick. Two way connectivity raises the question as to whether some outsider can hack into your system and seize control. I haven’t heard about it happening with a microwave – but I did read last year that it has happened with a car. Fortunately under controlled circumstances, but it does give you pause for thought. And perhaps gave Deaver an idea for his novel, the twelfth one he has written featuring forensic detective Lincoln Rhyme.
Is it a likely story? No. There aren’t that many deranged people around, and to pull off the crimes would require a certain amount of technical expertise. I’m not sure a really crazy person could manage it. But what do I know? It does seem to be technologically feasible.
That is what started me thinking. It’s not criminals seizing control of my microwave that worries me, but terrorists hacking into the power grid. Or perhaps stopping a hundred cars at one on the highway – imagine the carnage.
So much of our society is dependent on devices that didn’t exist a few years ago. And increasingly those devices are interconnected. That could have serious implications should someone try to get around system safeguards. I know government and industry works very hard to prevent security breaches, but you read about them all the time. And those are the ones that get reported – many do not. How big a jump is it from hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s servers and publishing embarrassing emails to hacking into the Pentagon and stealing the nuclear launch codes? I hope it is not just a big jump but a huge chasm, but I’m not a computer guy, I really don’t know for sure.
After all, you never know how good your security is until it has been breached.
The Steel Kiss is an entertaining read. It is fiction, so you know that the good guys will win in the end. Don’t you wish it was like that in real life?