Security essential in hyper-connected world
The highly successful launch of the Apple iPad represents another milestone on the road to a fully networked world involving ever increasing numbers of wired devices, accessed primarily on mobile platforms.
Although it has the field to itself at the moment, the revolutionary iPad will surely be followed by similar new-generation mobile devices that will be dependent on reliable connectivity to get the best out of them.
This is part of a trend dubbed "hyper-connectivity" by industry analysts and one that barring something catastrophic is now unstoppable.
Frost & Sullivan's senior consultant for mobility and the unwired experience, James Brehm, said we are "entering a period of time in which every device than can be connected will be connected to the internet and other devices".
Forecasts of just how many devices will be connected range from the tens of billions to one trillion in 15-20 years time.
According to IDC, an analyst company, there were more than 450 million mobile internet users worldwide in 2009, a number that is expected to more than double by the end of 2013.
Connectivity has already brought about huge changes in the way we work and play, even how we vote. Hyper-connectivity is likely to bring about further and deeper social changes in our lives.
But there is a looming danger in this brave new world. While hyper-connectivity will undoubtedly be a power for good in many ways, there is a section of the online population rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of exploiting the networks for their various criminal activities.
Business and consumer users increasingly care more about the coolness of the device rather than any in-built security protocols.
They expect to be protected from malware by some magic force or at least by somebody else; they have little inclination to be bothered with installing and keeping anti-malware tools up to date. Whether this is right or wrong doesn't really matter, it's a fact of life.
And it's a fact of life that network operators and ISPs are going to have to deal with - and soon.
Increasingly, governments and legislators around the world are looking to the providers to take responsibility for the safety of the network services they provide to end-users and backing this up with legislation that will result in fines and bad publicity for those that fail to meet required standards.
So even if they wanted to, ignoring the problem is not going to be an option for much longer.
This myopia presents huge challenges for ISPs and network providers as the world becomes more connected. But the seismic shift toward connectivity should not be seen as wholly negative because there are huge opportunities for those brave enough to take them.
If we are to take another analogy, look at the car industry. Once safety devices such as airbags and ABS were available as options only on a few models from a small number of manufacturers.
As the demand for the public for such devices grew, no manufacturer could afford to not offer them as standard. Today you cannot buy a new car without airbags because the public demands it. Safety does sell after all.
The obvious question is how can ISPs start to provide built-in network safety and allow end-users to get on with enjoying their on-line experience wherever they are?
One option is to invest heavily in their own IT security hardware and resources. But that is a huge commitment and in a scalable world, increasingly not a long-term option.
The other obvious route is to look to an outsourced or managed security provider (MSSP). But that must still be approached with some caution as the level of protection needed in the forthcoming hyper-connected world is not something every MSSP can provide.
Network providers need to ensure that any managed service they choose is robust and can meet the malware and cybercrime challenges of today and the future.
The supplier must offer the scalability and back-end infrastructure an ISP needs to assure customers they are fully protected. Above all, in a world where the end-user becomes a passive beneficiary of security, providers need to able to market this as a USP to customers.
What ISPs need is to be able to concentrate on their market offering. By carefully and intelligently partnering to build a secure proposition for their customers they will remain one step ahead of the cybercriminals and their competitors.
In the hyper-connected world, network “airbags” will become a highly sought after option.
Francisco Martín Abreu is president and CEO of Optenet