The Future of Security

Visitors to the recent RSA Conference in San Francisco were treated to a forward-looking keynote by City University of New York professor and television personality Michio Kaku. His presentation on the next 20 years of computing got me thinking about how the security industry will respond to the next great advances in science.

Kaku opened by calling science “the engine of economic prosperity”, and then reviewed a timeline of major scientific achievements since the 19th century. Several key innovations, he noted, sparked waves of secondary inventions in the industrial world.

First was the steam engine, which gave birth to the industrial revolution, followed by electricity and the automobile and, finally, high technology, which includes computers and telecommunications. In each case, these inventions created speculative bubbles that eventually popped, leading to the subsequent proliferation of the technology in the wake of the crash. In case you were wondering, the “networking of the world” was cited by Kaku as the outcome to the latest economic collapse, following in the footsteps of railways, electrification, and roadways.

The professor then asked what the fourth wave of science will be - a question he sought to answer when surveying 300 of the world’s leading scientists for an upcoming book.

Using Moore’s Law, Kaku predicted that by 2020, computer chips would cost about a penny to produce. Computers and chips, like electricity and indoor plumbing, will be “everywhere and nowhere”, he added. There will be millions upon millions of chips in our everyday environment; within our clothing and embedded in our eyeglasses (or contact lenses).

It is this eventual drop in price, coupled with the exponential growth in chip power, which led Kaku to predict that Silicon Valley would become America’s next Rust Belt. Surely today’s cradle of American innovation can avoid the plight of our once proud automotive or textile industries? Very few, if any, of these chips or computers are produced in the US these days, but what about the innovation side of things that allows our tech industry to thrive?

As Kaku outlined some of the technology we should expect to become mainstream over the next two decades, the future of innovation within security became clear to me: identity and access management. After all, we have a very strong service economy here in the US, and managing identities, as they access all the new ‘augmented reality’ devices just over the horizon, will be the key to security in 2020.

The line between human and computer will blur in the future, Kaku believes. Information streams will be everywhere, tailored to our identity. The challenge will be in verifying identity, so that these so-called augmented reality devices are accessed only by authorized users.

Furthermore, all of our personal information will be digitized by 2020, so failure to manage identity properly in the future could have catastrophic consequences for the individual should their identity, or devices, be compromised.

While many people will gladly sign up for simple identity access authentication, scores will resist having to hand personal information over to a central authority – where all the Easter eggs are kept in one basket.

It is no secret that Americans, on the whole, are largely distrustful of government. We begrudgingly disclose our identity to authority. Fingerprints are not something an American knowingly gives up with ease. At our finest, we practice skepticism with unabashed precision.

If we can’t have faith in government, then will we ever trust our personal information to an online identity program, much like that proposed by the Obama administration in January? Will we trust this information in the hands of our insurance companies, or another third-party identity management service? It seems to me that in order to participate in the augmented reality of the future, many American’s will need to part with their past. If we fail to adapt to this new reality, then America’s newest Rust Belt could extend from Manhattan to Seattle.

What’s Hot on Infosecurity Magazine?