Google VP Vint Cerf Is (Sometimes) Terrified of the Internet of Things

The internet co-founder has some concerns.

Aug 27 2015, 10:00am

Image: Joi/Flickr

At the Heidelberg Laureate Forum this past Monday, Vint Cerf, the Google vice president and co-inventor of the internet itself, offered some worried remarks about his progeny's imminent Internet of Things frontier. "Sometimes I'm terrified by it," he told a news briefing there, according to Network World. "It's a combination of appliances and software, and I'm always nervous about software—software has bugs." So, we should probably start paying attention: IoT security is a real threat.

It hardly needs spelling out. Connecting a "thing," whether it's a home thermostat or a nuclear power plant, means opening that thing to outside threats. The IoT offers new levels of exposure and we need to be thinking about this, like, yesterday. That is, if it's not too late already—back in April, a NIST analyst suggested that the IoT may even be fundamentally indefensible.

Cerf went on to say that he even avoids Google's company-provided employee massage chairs: "I know they're run by software—I worry they will fold up on me," he fretted, hopefully with sarcasm. "Who is liable when an appliance doesn't work the way it should, and what if that's a software question?"

Sure. Network security is a deep and abiding concern with respect to the IoT, which is fair. But Cerf's concern about software suddenly running all of our appliances and other assorted Things comes off as a bit goofy. Most whatever you can possible imagine that uses electricity is already run by software and this is nothing new or unique to IoT matters.

Embedded systems were around well before PCs, as were embedded software bugs. I could make an argument that, in terms of bugs, embedded software networked via the IoT might even offer more safety in that the software can be updated much more frequently. I would also note that software, of the sort that you download from some site and install on your laptop, is like an entirely different world from embedded software, which is debugged so deeply, aggressively, and exhaustively that it would blow the mind of your average scripter—speaking as someone that does it, anyhow.

So, worrying about network security threats and the IoT? Of course. "Software running things?" Get over it.