Why security will shape the future of apps - to avoid hacked humans
Why security will shape the future of apps - to avoid hacked humans


As our physical and digital worlds increasingly blur, emerging technologies such as AI, machine learning, robotics and the IoT are set to change society. Innovation has the potential to bring significant risks to information security with apps increasingly becoming prime targets for hackers.


F5 Networks recently commissioned research with Foresight Factory to explore the Future of Apps in EMEA, which uncovered new insights into how personal relationships with applications will shape our lives leaving consumers and companies needing to rethink how they manage and secure data.


Threats to ‘personal reality'


The report highlights the transformation of app interfaces, thanks to the rise of ‘mixed reality' and hardware innovation, as well as the threat that this could pose to our ‘personal reality'. Virtual and augmented reality technologies, while still relatively new to the mass market, are evolving rapidly, providing new opportunities for immersion, entertainment and education. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. For consumers, the opportunity to ‘customise' reality provides exciting entertainment experiences on one level, while on another level the lines between physical and digital worlds are already eroding further, leading to significant cyber-security risks. 


Technological advances, such as smart implants, DNA-derived treatments, high performance prosthetics and memory-enhancing components, provide people with unprecedented opportunities to self-enhance. Over the next decade, it will be feasible to make the choice to move beyond augmented external reality to augmented internal reality, merging bodies and minds with apps.


A pioneer in this field of human enhancement or ‘transhumanism' is Neil Harbisson, artist and co-founder of the Cyborg Foundation. When Harbisson was born, he was only able to see in shades of grey, leading to him having a connected antenna implanted in his skull. Via the antenna, Harbisson is also able to receive images, videos, music or phone calls directly into his head via external devices such as mobile phones or satellites.


This revolutionary initiative to merge the body and technology may seem extreme, but thanks to the rise of biometrics, there will be far more scope to augment our anatomy in the future. With this opportunity comes risk, whereby your body can be hacked, something Harbisson has already experienced. While it did not have negative consequences, future scenarios will occur where hacks may be launched on individuals with malicious intent and consumers could literally find themselves locked out of decision making or data control within their own bodies.


This presents significant challenges for cyber professionals, which goes beyond the challenge of simply protecting our personal credentials in traditional data centres or cloud environments. With the prospect of individuals being physically hacked and even manipulated by hackers, the need for experts to keep ahead of the threat has never been more vital. You only have to look to TV shows like Homeland to question the current danger of integrated technology, such as pacemakers, and consider how the vulnerabilities of increased transhumanism could prove to be.


Opportunities and challenges


The turbulent and transformative societal and technological changes expected over the coming decade will significantly shape the development and use of apps. Security must play a central role in these developments. With cyber-criminals already showcasing daily the chinks in the armour of businesses and governments, the emerging threat to individuals is one which must be tackled with urgency.


Questions around data capture, storage and ownership of this personal data are also being challenged with organisations needing to place a firm focus on the security around vital data. The Future of Apps report also reveals that secure and consumer-focused data practices could eventually emerge as a benchmark or a standard equivalent to those enforced elsewhere like environmental regulation and industrial compliance. There will also be significant changes in the power struggle for personal data with consumers demanding greater control and clarity from businesses around the safeguards needed to protect them, something recently demonstrated by a strain of virus exclusively targeting biomedical research labs. App security will be considered a market differentiator and businesses of all sizes and from multiple sectors must ensure that they take consumer concerns and security more seriously.


Whatever the future holds, we must act now to defend ourselves better against the growing threat landscape. Technological developments in machine learning will lead to applications that take an increasingly proactive position in peoples' lives, including cognitive thinking and new virtual worlds. Ultimately, security will be the differentiator in brand choice and determine how we all engage with apps in the future.


Contributed by Keiron Shepherd, senior security specialist, F5 Networks


*Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of SC Media or Haymarket Media.