As dependency on connected technologies increases, so do associated risks and the need for good governance, argues the World Economic Forum

As the world awaits a COVID-19 vaccine, attention is focused on how to track and safely deliver these temperature-sensitive vaccines to billions of people. Sensors and internet-enabled devices are expected to play a central role in this process, much as they have throughout the pandemic.

COVID-19 has accelerated global trends towards remote working, telehealth, distance learning and automation, according to a new report by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with the Global IoT Council and PwC.

The pandemic is also boasting adoption of wearable technologies like fitness trackers and smart-home devices.

As the dependency on connected technologies increases, so do the associated risks and the need for good governance.

In the report, WEF notes IoT has the potential to fundamentally transform how we live and work – but that it can also be misused. “These risks are coming to light, in the form of security and privacy issues, the potential for increased cybercrime, the rise of ubiquitous surveillance at work, home or in public spaces, control of mobility and expression, and more,” it notes.

While security cameras are designed to provide peace of mind, they have become a popular target for cybercriminals, the report points out. In 2019, multiple Ring security systems were compromised in the US. Hackers used the compromised cameras to access people’s homes, harrass children and even demand ransoms. 

Industry standards and government-issued recommendations are emerging as an important tool in guiding the data and risk management practices of IoT technology companies, states WEF. In the US, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued its Considerations for Managing Internet of Things (IoT) Cybersecurity and Privacy Risks, for example.

Five areas of focus

Strengthening security and privacy is not the only priority to realise the potential of our 22 billion internet connected devices. The WEF report findings highlight the need to mobilise in five critical areas:

  • Building transparency and trust into the heart of IoT technologies
  • Ensuring public privacy and security is protected
  • Providing equal access for all
  • Incentivising the use of IoT to help solve humankind’s biggest challenges
  • Bringing people together to create a global consensus on these critical issues

“With the emergence of 5G and IoT, we are on the cusp of unleashing the power of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and enabling the digital transformation of industries around the world,” said Cristiano Amon, president of Qualcomm Incorporated and co-chair of the Global IoT Council. “The combination of these essential technologies has the potential to shape the future of the internet, connecting everything to the cloud. Through the Council’s close collaboration with ecosystem partners, governments and policymakers, we strive to ensure privacy, security and equity in the design and deployment of IoT systems.”

The World Economic Forum aims to develop this work through a year-long series of activities, which formally begin on 10 December 2020. Industry and public-sector leaders are calling for immediate collective action to ensure internet-enabled devices can fairly benefit and protect society.