This edition of Heavy Metal looks at one of my favorite topics: How our society's adoration of the internet makes us blind to anything negative. And there are plenty of negative things about technology. If everything is connected, everything can get hacked.
I mean, you're not going to see a Christmas-time ad for the new smartphone that shows it catching fire in your hand.
You know that Apple ad on TV where Frankenstein uses his iPhone when he sings “There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays”? The little girl joins in, followed by all the townspeople. Heartwarming. But you just know if Frankie really did show up at your city's Christmas tree lighting, the cops would riddle him with bullets, the pitchforks and burning torches would come out, and the little children would run screaming in terror.
And Yahoo just made national news when it disclosed that more than 1 million accounts were hacked — back in 2013!
What does this have to do with plastics? Plenty. Industry 4.0 was everywhere at K 2016, the ginormous plastics technology trade fair in Düsseldorf, Germany. I realize that most Americans, even in the plastics industry, don't know much of anything about Industry 4.0. (Plastics News ran one of our online polls in October, and 59 percent of you said “I have no idea” what Industry 4.0 means.)
It's a European thing. Basically, it means the total interconnectedness of factories, using the mountains of data that pours out of machine controllers, sensors and all manner of software. I didn't hear many naysayers at the K show. Everyone seemed to be “all in,” as they say.
K 2016 ran Oct. 19-26. On Friday Oct. 21, a cyberattack took down a group of major websites for much of that day, including Google, Netflix, Spotify and Twitter. It was a giant “distributed denial of service” attack (DDoS), where the hackers took control of a massive number of web-connected devices, like security cameras that record goings-on at businesses and parking lots.
A malicious software hijacked the devices and made them send a huge amount of requests to the websites, overwhelming them. Bots, or whatever you want to call them, joined together to become an army of mayhem.
Yes, it's great how the world is all interconnected. The Cloud! It's so wonderful! But these cyberattacks kind-of bring it back down to Earth, don't they?
I asked the best expert I know for some insights. He is Biplab Pal, the co-founder and chief technology officer of Prophecy Sensorlytics Inc., Novatec Inc.'s two-year-old company that make sensors which are able to predict failure in a range of industrial equipment, such as pumps and dryers. The data goes to the Cloud, and runs through Sensorylics' powerful software that does a thorough analytical process, to bring back usable information.
Pal, known as “Bip,” is an outgoing guy. Prophecy Sensorlytics information only flows one way, outward, not back into the machine, so nobody can get into the piece of equipment. Industrial users' data is not at risk. Bip said, some unsuccessful hack attempts of the firm's Cloud, when the company was in its very early stages, amounted to nothing.
“But we learned from the experience,” Bip said. After putting in security, Sensorlytics has not had any more hacking incidents, he said.
The firm continues to check, and add security measures. “Just to let you know, this is not an easy business. We have a lot of security,” he said.
And Bip said the Oct. 21 attack spurred federal agencies to move more urgently to develop standards for cybersecurity. “They have to,” he said. “Otherwise, any gateway device actually can create havoc from people hacking into it.”
OK, so what happened in the big attack?
Bip said the users did not change their user names and passwords, so all the security cameras still had their default passwords that came from the factory. “But nobody changes their default password,” he said.
“This company that manufactured them in thousands and thousands. And these hackers knew the user name and password. They also knew that 99 percent of the people will not be changing their default user name and password. So they hacked into it. And obviously, they did not do anything bad [to the actual security cameras themselves]. What they did is, they used the computer as a further hacking device to attack. Which means they were throwing unwanted data to the server, and block the network.”
The Internet of Things means job security for computer experts who can fight the hackers.
You know all those passwords for your computer, email, checking account, health insurance, credit card accounts, payroll and retirement investments?
Now get ready to set up passwords for your refrigerator, your washer and dryer, your toaster, and to use your phone to start your car. And don't forget! Change the passwords….