Homeland Security and the IoT: Why Didn't I See the Links?

FILE - This Sept. 30, 2011 file photo shows a reflection of the Department of Homeland Security logo in the eyeglasses of a c
FILE - This Sept. 30, 2011 file photo shows a reflection of the Department of Homeland Security logo in the eyeglasses of a cybersecurity analyst at the watch and warning center of the Department of Homeland Security's secretive cyber defense facility in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The center is tasked with protecting the nation’s power, water and chemical plants, electrical grid and other facilities from cyber attacks. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

As some of you know, I used to concentrate on "networked homeland security" strategies designed to empower the public to be full partners in disaster preparedness and response.

I'd pretty much left that period of my career behind until I had a conversation the other night with my oldest son, a Lt. Col. and instructor at the National Intelligence University.

Harkening back to the piece I wrote about the Chinese IoT program, we talked about how the program to build sensors into transit systems, roads, and bridges would give the Chinese a real advantage in a disaster, knowing instantly where there was damage, re-routing traffic, etc.

Similarly, since one of the hallmarks of the IoT is linking smartphones, I realized (belatedly) just how powerful the Terrorism Survival Planner suite of programs that I created years ago for the first generation of smartphones had been, and how much more powerful similar programs can be now because of instant interactivity and geolocation.

One area where there are definite synergies between the IoT and homeland security is the development of "smart grids" for electricity. The Rocky Mountain Institute, always in the forefront of thinking strategically (and outside-the-box!) when it comes to energy, did a blog post about the need for "microgrid" photovoltaic systems equipped with a smart switch so that they could continue providing electricity to homes during a disaster without imperiling utility workers trying to restore power overall. The post pointed out that New Jersey has the second largest number of PV systems in the country, so think what a difference that could have made during Superstorm Sandy!

At any rate, hopefully you get the story: because all sorts of things are linked via the Internet with the Internet of Things in redundant networks of networks, the IoT can be a critical tool toward building resilience, whether in a natural disaster or a terrorist attack.

PS: And that's not to mention the IoT's potential as a source for the intelligence community. While I've criticized the U.S. government for knowing so little and doing so little about the IoT, that's not the case with former CIA Director David Petraeus. As Wired reported early last year:

'Transformational' is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies,' Petraeus enthused, 'particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft.'

All those new online devices are a treasure trove of data if you're a 'person of interest' to the spy community. Once upon a time, spies had to place a bug in your chandelier to hear your conversation. With the rise of the 'smart home,' you'd be sending tagged, geolocated data that a spy agency can intercept in real time when you use the lighting app on your phone to adjust your living room's ambiance.

'Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters -- all connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing,'Petraeus said, 'the latter now going to cloud computing, in many areas greater and greater supercomputing, and, ultimately, heading to quantum computing.'

Petraeus allowed that these household spy devices 'change our notions of secrecy' and prompt a rethink of' 'our notions of identity and secrecy.' All of which is true -- if convenient for a CIA director.

Bottom line: Guess I'm not quite ready to leave the world of homeland security behind!