Augmented Humans: A New Cybersecurity Challenge

Your enterprise may have strict access and authentication policies to reduce the risk of a security breach by an insider.  But your defenses may not be prepared for an invisible attack by an augmented human.

“For the first time we are using advanced technology inside our bodies, and that has great potential for both good and bad,” said Daryl Plummer, Gartner vice president and analyst, in a March 10 webinar, Gartner Top Strategic Predictions for 2020 and Beyond.

Plummer cited the example of his colleague, analyst Dave Aron who had an NFC chip inserted under the skin in his hand. “It allows him to unlock his door, make mobile payments and store information,” said Plummer.  The chip also has the potential to monitor his nutritional intake as well as his physical and emotional state – capabilities similar to today’s wearable devices.

Another augmented human is artist Neil Harbisson, who had an antenna implanted on his skull with a headset that allows him to “hear” images and “paint” sounds. To get his U.S. passport with the device, he was designated as a cyborg, a human with both natural and artificial parts.

For enterprises, the advent of augmented humans poses new challenges, as well as potential opportunities.  “What if someone walking into your data center has a chip embedded in the body with Bluetooth wireless capabilities,” Plummer said. “If that person could connect to your network, you would have a big-time security issue.”

Augmented humans were first on Gartner’s list of top strategic predictions for the year, based on a wide-ranging survey of technology professionals conducted before the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak. More than 50 percent of respondents said that “human transformation” will be important to an organization by the end of 2020.  Plummer added that 30 percent of IT organizations expect to extend BYOD policies by 2023 to cover “bring your own enhancements” to address augmented humans in the workplace.

This is an issue that speaks to the governance policies and capabilities of enterprises. “When there are more augmented humans, will you scan everyone who comes into a building?” said Plummer. “Clearly, there are some technologies you don’t want inside your firewall. This is something you should be thinking about now, even if the time horizon seems far away.”

But there are many promising positive applications for cyborgs as well. One example is the growing use of humanoid robots to perform tasks in the workplace or provide a sense of comfort to hospital patients, homebound children or seniors at nursing facilities. “A hotel in Japan is using human-form robots to check in guests,” Plummer said. “Even though it’s a machine, we react to them in human ways.”

A disabled person could use a headset to control a humanoid robot with visual sensors, augmenting the individual’s abilities.  It would provide with a means of engaging with the outside world, doing useful tasks and fostering personal relationships through a virtual connection.

“One likely result of the coronavirus pandemic is a decline in face-to-face interactions,” said Plummer in the webinar. “We need to explore these types of augmented technology options that can provide all kinds of people with a rich remote experience. One day, we may all be augmented like Dave and Neil.”

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