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For those of us whose interests cross sci-fi and the internet (sometimes it seems there’s no difference), we recently celebrated a silver anniversary: 25 years since the publication of William Gibson’s Neuromancer. The book draws me in on so many levels, but what fascinates me most is the security aspect—people are able to ‘jack’ into cyberspace, with corporate and military databases visible as physical constructs, surrounded by an intrusion detection system called ‘ICE’—neuromancer speak for Intrusion Countermeasure Electronics, according to Wikipedia’s glossary for this iconic book. Hackers, known as ‘cowboys,’ play cat-and-mouse with ever more powerful defenses, with the stakes much higher than they are now. You see where I’m going with this?Anyone who dismisses this as just stuff from a dusty, old sci-fi novel is missing the significance in a big way. A glance at some of the news articles of recent weeks shows this man-machine interface is quickly becoming a reality…. bridging from science fiction into science fact. In a recent Wired article focused on research with neural technologies, the researchers pointed out that the internet and even most new devices are not designed originally with security in mind. This makes for some interesting speculation, as well as a bit of trepidation. For instance, researchers at UC Berkeley have discovered that rhesus monkeys with implanted electrodes could control a computer with their thoughts (not sure I can handle another Planet of the Apes follow-on). Similarly, the Wired article I referenced reported on the use of technology to use thoughts to operate a computer—and warned of the security implications at the same time—especially as we see advancements in neural devices, such as deep-brain stimulators. The article cites two instances of malicious hacking of epilepsy web sites in which unauthorized flashing animations were posted, triggering seizures in some photo-sensitive patients. Just this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that a Silicon Valley startup is developing a tiny chip that can be attached to medication—and digested—and with a sensor worn on the skin, can wirelessly relay important information to doctors.I’m not saying any of this is going to happen overnight. But we do need to be thinking of security at the outset—and not as an afterthought. That’s exactly why, when I visit Cisco’s telemedicine health center, I feel a certain measure of protection, knowing that the information is being relayed across a secure infrastructure. But for many, and especially looking forward, we’re not talking about the Internet as we know it…. the mostly-connected Internet of payrolls, credit card numbers, and twitter musings. It will be one of smart grids, intelligent buildings, and remote surgery. Security is breached, and suddenly the potential for a life or death situation is real. The virus is real. In building these new ‘systems,’ security must be part of the DNA of the network…. something organic. If we do our homework now, in a generation, when Gibson’s cyberspace becomes a reality (and it will), we’ll be prepared.By the way, for those interested, the Neuromancer movie, a long time in planning, is set for 2011.

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