C. Warren Axelrod

Cybersecurity Fails … Government Not Keeping Up

I was reading Andrew Ross Sorkin’s article “Flying Taxis, New Exciting Stealth Mode” on the front page of Business Day in the March 13, 2018 New York Times (more about that later) when I noticed (in the adjacent column … an advantage of reading the paper version) an article by Ben Casselman about data collection and analysis deficiencies in wage data provided to the U.S. Department of Labor. I was particularly struck by the following statements:

“Most government statistics … have failed to adapt to the rise in the so-called gig economy and other trends that are changing the relationship between companied and workers. The hourly earnings measure in the monthly jobs report excludes Uber drivers and similar contractors.”

This has big implications with respect to accounting for a rapidly growing segment of the economy. It also has implications for cybersecurity. There are likely huge areas of cyberspace activity for which we do not have appropriate statistics on breaches, losses, costs, etc. The truth is that we are seeing only a very small fraction of the total number of breaches and consequent losses. By far the majority of breaches are never disclosed, if they are indeed known. This is a case where I agree with the need-metrics-to-manage school of thought, although it is more “need to know if we are expected to manage.” If we don’t know the full extent of the cybersecurity problem and are unable to measure its magnitude even with respect to known issues, then how can we calculate a meaningful ROI and make reasonable decisions as to what we need to invest in cybersecurity and where to put those funds?

Quite coincidentally, in the article about efforts to introduce flying taxis with testing going on in New Zealand of all places, which is the article that I started out on, the emphasis is on the speed with which lawmakers and regulators respond to new technologies. Why did Kitty Hawk, the company run by Sebastian Thrun and supported by Alphabet’s Larry Page, decide to do their prototype testing in New Zealand? The explanation given in the article is that NZ has a goal of “net carbon zero by 2050,” and that electric flying cars will help achieve that goal. As an aside, I wonder whether NZ has a “net methane zero by 2050” and a plan to make sheep less polluting. Just joking, NZ.

For me, there are some very interesting aspects of the flying-taxis article. As with autonomous road vehicles, there are potentially two schools of thought. One is the emphasis on robotic versions of current vehicles, such as the auto manufacturers favor. And the other is the focus on software and sensors, as is the preference of the Googles, Amazons, Apples and Ubers. Interestingly, there is no mention of aircraft manufacturers in the NYT article, but aircraft manufacturer Airbus has teamed with car manufacturer Audi and VW-owned Italdesign to develop a “flying robo-taxi” as described in Doug Newcomb’s  March 13, 2018 article “Flying Cars Continue to Fascinate but Never Achieve Lift-Off”  at https://www.pcmag.com/news/359804/flying-cars-continue-to-fascinate-but-never-achieve-lift-off#

From a cybersecurity point of view, it is worth noting the differences among approaches for autonomous road, rail, sea and air transportation systems as they relate to roadways, railways, seaways and airways. The obvious observation is that they are all different in many ways. The most constrained version is railroads, where vehicles (a.k.a. trains) are restricted in their movement to tracks. Roadways are the next most constraining environment, where roads generally limit where vehicles can go (yes, I know there are off-road vehicles, but they are a small minority), and within roads we have lanes, usually divided by white dashed or full white lines, some of which have special designations, such as for buses and high-occupancy vehicles. Then we have seaways, which have the equivalent of road lanes, but are more loosely marked by buoys. The three prior modes of transportation are essentially two-dimensional in that the vehicles run on the ground or on top of the ocean. Airways add the dimension of altitude, thereby introducing a third dimension.

The appearance of three-dimensional large-scale transportation can be scary. The 1997 movie “The Fifth Element” with Bruce Willis as a New York City taxicab driver in the year 2263 provides an intriguing view of flying vehicles, looking similar to then-current cars but without the wheels, with designated horizontal and vertical lanes. The rapid changing of the taxicab fleeing from the police in three-dimensional lanes is discombobulating, to say the least. But, while the vehicles are not driverless (which is somewhat strange given where we are today and allowing for 250+ years of advancements), clearly there would have to be computers and sensors in place even if it is just to regulate the traffic lanes and signals.  Nevertheless, what comes to mind are the cybersecurity issues, which are not alluded to in the movie but which clearly would bring such a system to its knees.

But, back to today’s world, it is interesting to note that we are dealing with a bifurcated approach to flying cars, with vehicle manufacturers and software/data companies (such as Uber) in competition, much as we are with autonomous road vehicles. Again, I think that the data companies will win in the end, but not before there has been a valiant fight by the vehicle/aircraft manufacturers. And, if this turns out to be the case, then we have much greater cybersecurity, privacy and safety concerns as the upcoming ubiquitous systems are subjected to cyberattacks.

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