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A Call for the Balance of Power Between Utility and Security

Tom Sullivan

January 16, 2018
Tom Sullivan

When it comes to using our laptops, mobile devices or on-demand video, we all want speed, convenience and reliability.  But at what price?

Early this new year, the New York Times reported on two critical system flaws discovered in processors across almost all the world’s computers. The flaws, called Spectre and Meltdown, make it possible for hackers to access passwords and other important information on devices that utilize cloud technology. Translation: that means your devices, my devices, the NSA’s devices and just about everybody’s devices are vulnerable to outsiders seeking our personally identifiable information, passwords and other confidential data.

Software updates have been released to patch the security gaps left open by Meltdown but these patches could slow the performance of affected machines by 20 to 30 percent, according to the New York Times. Additionally, there is no known fix for the Spectre, and it is not clear what chip makers like Intel (with 80% share of microprocessors) will do to address the problem. The security “oversight” is a complex problem to even describe, but is basically the byproduct of a heavy focus by manufacturers on engineering speed and efficiency into our computers. Apparently, giving people a great consumer experience can come with at an ever greater, undesirable price.

These latest technological security fails are raising a lot of questions in the minds of business owners and consumers who depend on technology in their everyday lives. Technology is indeed barreling forward, but it’s hard for consumers to know if tech companies are thoroughly testing the metaphorical breaks on the speeding tech train. Because of the gap in consumers’ knowledge, it is the responsibility of the companies that develop the latest and greatest technological advancements to also be offering equally advanced security to match. And when companies fail to live up to this responsibility, there need to be preventative and punitive mechanisms in place to hold them accountable for problems that result in real harm to end users.

Our insatiable appetites for speed of access to information is the reason Amazon, Google, Apple and others are investing billions in Voice Search and Predictive Search.  Perhaps we need to put a few speed bumps in the road.  Fortunately, dozens of new chip start-ups are being fueled by billions in investments as engineers are rethinking how computers are built in the new age of artificial intelligence.

I think the current system has the chase for consumer utility leading the way with security trying to keep pace. While it is vital to continue advancing technology to better society, it is becoming more important than ever for utility and security to come together before innovations are introduced to the world. If they don’t, companies will be bringing pathways of harm both to consumers and to their own brands and futures.