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A Cy-Phy future

We are arriving in a new era that can be referred to as the age of Cy-Phy, writes Phil Quade, CISO, at the network security company Fortinet.

This is a time characterised by the emergence and integration of IoT devices, OT technology, fast, wireless data streams and artificial intelligence (AI) with our physical spaces, creating a next level of Cy-Phy technology. Cy-Phy systems are designed to operate in and intimately know our homes, businesses, our bodies and lifestyles, so much so that they are now becoming deeply intertwined with more traditional cybersecurity systems and data. The “edge” of today’s cyber networks has never been so interesting!

In recent years this technology has steadily progressed from office spaces into closer proximity and direct immersion in our personal lives. Cars are equipped with technology that tells us to stay in the correct lane, and can automatically brake when the driver is not alert. We also have household appliances, lighting and temperature control systems that are responsive to voice commands. With the emergence of Cy-Phy systems, new technologies designed to understand our bodies and homes are becoming intertwined with more traditional cybersecurity & OT systems and data. With the Internet of Things (IoT), AI and 5G are seeing mainstream adoption, and are establishing themselves as the foundation of Cy-Phy, which is set to change how we interact with our surroundings.

IoT devices

The starting point for this transformation is 5G technology, which brings with it lower latency, highly reliable connections and faster speeds. All of these factors mean that connected devices will be more able to rapidly communicate and process data, and to more thoroughly support our daily actions.

The additional speed and power provided by 5G is significant for enhancing IoT as it will contribute to the creation of more devices being able to perform more complex tasks. The propagation of IoT into our regular day to day lives is affording new opportunities to gather data. The development of sensing technology has increased the capability of sensors to acquire data. In the case of wearable IoT, sensors can be integrated into accessories, clothing and the living environment, such that information on an individual – including heart rate or steps taken – can be acquired unobtrusively and seamlessly in daily life.

More powerful IoT devices enable us to collect more information, analyse it and create a solution that can aid an individual with a specific task or learn from processes. In the foreseeable future, IoT devices will be used to track other devices and users, monitor inventory, gather user and device information, and provide real-time data that can impact everything from manufacturing floors and agile application development to managing and coordinating resources in highly connected environments such as smart cities.

For example, Google is working on connected contact lenses with built in sensors that can analyse the wearer’s tears in order to provide doctors with information on their state of health. Potentially this wearable IoT device could have the ability to check the wearer’s glucose level if they have diabetes, or work on an eye’s focus in the case of a patient with presbyopia. Not only will this innovative technology reduce time used by doctors having to see to patients in order to provide diagnoses, this could potentially be lifesaving, by flagging up health issues within patients which otherwise could have gone unaccounted for and ultimately untreated.

Consumer-grade connected wearables, such as universal health monitoring devices give the clearest indication of the progress IoT devices have made so far. Remarkably, in order to simplify many of the activities of everyday life, people in Sweden have had microchips embedded within their hands which enable them to access their home or workplace, board a train and, soon make contactless payments.

Cy-Phy will take this further. Microchips in vehicles, clothing or even physically embedded in our body would potentially simplify multiple activities of our everyday routines – from identification, accessing transportation and purchasing goods, or accessing restricted locations, resources services or devices.

Further analysis

AI is swiftly becoming better at performing tasks that would normally require human intervention such as speech recognition, decision making, visual perception and translation between languages. In the future emerging technologies being interconnected with our businesses, homes and cars will not be limited to responding to our needs but will ultimately begin to anticipate them. We have barely scratched the surface of what we can achieve with Cy-Phy. The possibilities are endless as we start to gather, collate and analyse data related to integrated sensing and analysis in near real time including shape, colour, weight, brightness; smell; temperature; size; speed and vector; loudness; and altitude and proximity. As we create a constant state of integration with this data, the benefits will be ground-breaking. This promises to usher in automation in homes and commercial buildings, enable the realisation of long-envisioned smart cities, and revolutionise critical services such as healthcare, in addition to unprecedented convenience for consumers.

Applying Cybersecurity to Cy-Phy

Whilst the future of Cy-Phy looks bright in terms of innovation, Cy-Phy is likely to also create extra challenges that security organisations need to be knowledgeable of and begin to prepare for now. Notably, as the number of devices connect & disconnect, and data volume accelerates, the likelihood of information overload on security managers increases. Larger volumes of data and more connected devices in turn increase the complexity of networks and create greater cyber-risk. Consequently, new security systems and practices – including AI, behavioural analytics, increased visibility, and automation– will be needed to protect organisations.

To combat this risk cyber security systems will be enabled to monitor behaviours over time through the integration of physical sensors and networks. When partnered with behavioural analytics and speed at the edge, security systems can better detect cybersecurity weaknesses, anomalies, and even predict security issues that might otherwise fall through the cracks. Cybersecurity systems’ ability to respond to threats at speed and scale without human intervention will be enhanced by this sort of integrated system.

Cy-Phy will breed multidimensional, interconnected environments which may add further complexity in cybersecurity. Additional data protection measures must follow due to the growing number of IoT devices moving into and out of corporate networks, especially at the new network’s edges. Therefore, as organisations expand their multi-cloud strategy and deploy more IoT devices, cyberattack surfaces will grow due to the risk of intruders being able to move laterally within the organisation once they gain access. In addition, access control will become more challenging as the number of edges and points of entry continue to grow. Therefore, businesses will need to use behavioural analytics to spot unusual network activity, access control to segment different types of devices, have automated policies to quickly remediate issues, and use AI and the latest threat intelligence to recognise attack patterns.

Start preparing

Cy-Phy can go one of two ways. It can either become an enabler of business efficiencies an personal conveniences, with the right cybersecurity and practices, or it can become the next wave of technology that overwhelms already at-the-limit security teams.
Organisations need to develop security strategies designed around principles of adaptability, speed, integration and automation, to begin preparing for the future. Whilst the future of Cy-Phy is uncertain, we should begin preparing now.


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