White House CIO: The Internet Of Things Has Become Like ‘Free Love In The ’60s’

White House Chief Information Officer Tony Scott is excited, if hesitant, about the opportunities that the Internet of Things could bring to government.

On a panel discussion Wednesday at the National Press Club in D.C., Scott likened the flood of network-connected devices and sensors to “free love in the ’60s.” IoT, he said, has been booming with little consideration in Washington as to how policy must be fashioned around that.

“There were no checks on interoperability. It was, ‘I can interact with you, therefore I shall, no matter what, and under all circumstances,’’’ said Scott who was previously CIO at VMWare in Palo Alto. “That’s not necessarily a good thing in all cases so I think we’ve got to have some models and some broadly enforceable rule sets that can apply … that will actually, if done right, encourage the kind of growth that I think we all see.”

Scott’s remarks highlight an important concern on the part of the federal government when it comes to IoT.

IoT is an amorphous buzzword that typically refers to the number of devices — be it smartphones, tablets, or sensors in warehouses — all connected to a network and all sharing information. It provides limitless possibilities to federal agencies that want to, say, manage vehicles through smart car technology to monitor emissions. Or for cities that want to outfit sensors to buildings to monitor energy use. But it also opens up vulnerabilities.

The federal government’s concerns focus on privacy and security. According to Gartner, the amount of IoT devices has grown from 3 billion in 2013 to about 4.9 billion in 2015. By 2020, Gartner estimates that figure will swell to 25 billion. Those offer great capabilities but they also increase the number of threat vectors — potential entry points for cyber attacks that were once resigned to simply desktops and other legacy computing hardware.

As Scott put it, this outgrowth of devices has parallels to the growth of the automobile industry. At first, there were no stop signs or traffic lines until the automobile became so popular that “there came a need for generally accepted rules.”

“I think we’re going to need the digital equivalent of that in some form,” Scott said.

In short, regulation and policy hasn’t caught up to the growth of IoT and the stakes are high in the current cyber threat landscape.

“It’s one thing if someone takes over your Instagram account,” Thomas Kalil, deputy director for policy for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said on Wednesday’s panel. “It’s another thing if they take over your car.”

Scott stressed the need for having conversations at the federal level — and soon.

“This is an active conversation that we really need to have across public sector, private sector — figure out what the proper roles are and then move with some diligence on this,” Scott said.

The need for this dialogue becomes all the more important given the dearth of expertise among federal agencies as to what IoT even is. A March 2015 report by the Brookings Institute found that not a single agency mentioned the word in its strategic plan.

“If you go into the average group of government officials and you ask them what the Internet of Things is and how it can help them to achieve their mission, I think you’re going to find a very small percentage of government officials who can answer that question or maybe understand what the concept is,” William Eggers, global public sector research director at the consulting firm Deloitte, told me back in September.

Source: Washington Business Journal, James Bach
Photo: A panel at the National Press Club in D.C. discussed the future of federal IT on Dec. 9, 2015. Participants included (from left to right): Eric Engleman, technology editor at Politico; Thomas Kalil, deputy director for policy for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; David Giambruno, senior vice president and chief information officer at the Tribune Media Co.; Christopher Smith, vice president of technology at AT&T Government Solutions; and Tony Scott, U.S. chief information officer. (James Bach)