What will cyberspace look like in the year 2025? What does the future hold for the online protection of people and data? Will we still use credit cards and Social Security numbers in a decade or will they be replaced? Will advances in medicine be matched with progress in protecting personal health records? Will privacy protections be more robust or largely a thing of the past? Bottom line: How will technology impact our lives in the future, in positive and negative ways?
These are important questions, and while there are plenty of cyberpredictions for 2015, it’s also important to take a longer-term look at emerging digital threats in order to address gaps in protection.
One area that’s getting a lot of attention is the Internet of Things. Wearable and implantable technology, autonomous cars that drive themselves and network-connected household appliances are just the beginning. Most experts believe that a proliferation of smart sensors, cameras, software, databases and massive data centers will forever alter how we interact in our daily lives.
Patrick Tucker, author of The Naked Future: What Happens In a World That Anticipates Your Every Move?, describes upcoming technology this way: “One positive effect of ‘ubiquitous computing,’ as it used to be called, will be much faster, more convenient and lower-cost medical diagnostics. This will be essential if we are to meet the health-care needs of a rapidly aging baby boomer generation. The Internet of Things will also improve safety in cities, as cars, networked to one another and their environment, will better avoid collisions, coordinate speed, etc. We will all be able to bring much more situational intelligence to bear on the act of planning our day, avoiding delays (or unfortunate encounters) and meeting our personal goals.”
But others see this coming decade as an Orwellian time with more surveillance of our activities and less ability to not be tracked. They wonder: Will citizens be able to opt out of interactions in cyberspace? What freedoms will truly be offered to Luddites?
A recent survey conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that a significant majority of industry experts believe a major cyberattack will occur before 2025. This online attack was defined by “widespread harm to a nation’s security and capacity to defend itself and its people.” Could a catastrophic cyberevent shape our future?
According to a 2014 McAfee survey, “68 percent of Americans are concerned about what the state of cybersecurity will be 11 years from now. Nearly two-thirds of consumers stated identity theft, monetary theft and fraud as the biggest concerns. ... The study also revealed that as many as 77 percent of consumers fear their families could fall victim to hackers over the next decade. Almost half believe their families will be affected by cyberbullies in 2025.”
I’d like to highlight three significant efforts that have looked at these questions in detail and offer excellent insights and some practical solutions. All three of these resources are worth a close examination:
1. Cyberspace 2025: Today’s Decisions, Tomorrow’s Terrain is available from Microsoft. This report offers several scenarios and allows the reader to evaluate the outcomes of various policy choices across a diverse range of domains — education, immigration and trade — and their implications for cybersecurity.
2. CyberSpace 2025 Workshop. This wealth of information is available from the National Science Foundation. You can download the presentations from the “Files” link at this event website.
3. U.S. Air Force Cyber Vision 2025, a PDF report about military priorities.
Some experts even think robots with artificial intelligence may help solve our security problems. One depiction of a future (fictitious) company offers this fun video about data couriers designed from advanced machine robotics known as SYNCS. Nevertheless, it all goes wrong when hackers take over control of the robots in this glimpse into our possible future.
One final thought: The latest NASCIO survey put security back at the top of priorities for state government CIOs, after bouncing around the top 10 list for the past decade. While other technology items may change or even disappear, I predict security will still be a top concern in 2025.