Like a bird set free from a cage, the world is no longer limited by the wires that once defined what was possible when. Over the past decade, gadgetry has allowed us more freedom than ever to do virtually anything, anywhere, anytime – even when flying 30,000 feet in the air. The Internet of Things is all around us today, as we live in a more connected world than ever before. This is not just in terms of person-to-device, but also device-to-device and person-to-person and Cisco predicts that this will continue to increase, with more than 50 billion devices being connected by 2020.
The multiplying personal benefits are made clear with each product launch and advert. “Instant,” “Convenient,” “Empowering,” “Game-changing.” These are the power words to the siren song of how technology improves life – and rightfully so. The Apple Watch does not just tell you the time or give you cause for one more charger by your bed at night. It is an always-accessible key fob, weather report, boarding pass, personal trainer, communication link and, let us not forget, status symbol that firmly establishes your place among the most suave on the socio-technologic spectrum.
Wearables present abundant commercial benefits, too. A company like Amazon with massive warehouses can use wieldy smartwatches to locate and communicate with employees that are widely spread out. The list of industries with potential for wearable applications is endless and something the greatest minds in technology never tire of pondering.
But freedom and risk run on parallel tracks and usually arrive around the same time. Our technologically augmented way of life, involves sharing often-sensitive data with an unimaginable number of sources, which in turn pass it on to suppliers. It is an agreeable trade for users who want better services, but when a breach takes place – such as the quagmire of American insurance giant Anthem Inc. that exposed data of 80 million customers – the inherent risks of our digital environment become clear.
The average Joe and Jane on the street suddenly realise the importance of questioning who is trusted with data and how it is protected. It is imperative that corporate executives and CIOs contemplate these same questions while pushing towards greater enterprise security capabilities and protocols, especially with the emergence of wearables.
A smartwatch posing a risk? It seems unlikely with its small size and limited functionality, as might any other wearable variant. However, new features and apps are constantly becoming available, and some could prove reason for employers to be concerned. For the smartwatches with cameras (such as the Samsung Gear 2) or Wi-Fi connectivity (such as the Samsung Gear S), new privacy issues could arise in the workplace – both on personal and corporate levels.
With a subtle lens at one’s wrist, suddenly Cathy in Accounting has James Bond abilities and can unobtrusively photograph coworkers or sensitive documents without consent. Even if an employee is not malevolent, connecting to the corporate Wi-Fi network will create a potential entry point hackers can exploit in the future.
The skeptic might say this all seems unlikely or that these are risks of only some devices. After all, the frontrunner Apple Watch does not have a camera or Wi-Fi capabilities. But this issue is bigger than wearables currently on the market and greater than workforce norms of today. Instead of waiting for a problem to emerge, companies must be proactive in implementing safeguards for the business, employees and customers alike.
First, a BYOD policy is absolutely crucial. If that need is not apparent now, it will be soon. Key elements should include prohibiting any personal devices (wearables, smartphones, laptops, etc.) from connecting to the corporate network – instead using guest Wi-Fi – to eliminate potential points of failure for security. Also employees should be informed what devices are appropriate where. It is standard government procedure when discussing top-secret matters that all electronics must be left outside the meeting room. Are there contexts where your business should reduce vulnerabilities similarly?
Secondly, establish regular reviews of guidelines for employees’ use of corporate and personal devices. The digital world and marketplace is constantly changing, and companies must ensure their policies take into consideration the most recent threats. This requires diligence in staying apprised with the latest risks for your industry and accepting that it is a matter of when an attack will occur, not if.
The danger at hand is not wearables themselves; it is being stagnant while significant changes take place everywhere else. As we hurtle towards an increasingly interactive and immersive digital future, companies must prioritise being mindful of new trends and possible concerns. Only through these means can challenges most effectively be pre-empted and a company’s flight towards the blue skies of prosperity remain uninhibited.