R Street Tech Policy Fellow Anne Hobson appeared last week as a guest on the popular “Mike Check” show on KVOI-FM in Tucson, Arizona. Along with hosts Mike Shaw and Ray Alan, she discussed the benefits—and dangers—of emerging technologies like virtual reality, artificial intelligence and the so-called internet of things.

TV shows like Netflix’s Black Mirror and movies like “The Terminator” do a good job imagining the pitfalls of future technology run-amok. But these on-screen depictions, interesting though they may be, aren’t reflective of the many beneficial applications advanced technology gives us today. For instance, internet-of-things devices are making daily tasks easier and increasing productivity. The owner of a “smart lightbulb” no longer has to get out of bed to turn off the lights, while a baker can simply ask Amazon Echo how many teaspoons in a tablespoon without having to burn the cookies.

Of course, all this new technology has its downsides. The scale, scope and interconnected nature of new devices creates unique cybersecurity challenges. There are more than 17 billion connected devices of all sorts, from internet-enabled toasters, to smart TVs, to EZ-Pass devices with RFID chips. Put another way, there are now 17 billion points of vulnerability to protect.

Their interconnectivity also means one person’s compromised toaster can affect another person’s ability to access their email. Malware can infect devices and conscript them into a botnet “zombie army” ordered to barrage a target with traffic and render websites or web services inaccessible. Botnets aren’t the only cybersecurity problem. A majority of data breaches are caused by human error — people sending information to the wrong party, clicking on a malicious link in a phishing email or using default or simple passwords.

While the cybersecurity challenges to connected devices are significant, market-based solutions such as certification programs, threat information sharing efforts and aftermarket cybersecurity products are developing to address them.

Audio of the full show is embedded below.

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