This post was written by Matthew Ford, a strategist here at Jump. You can find him on Twitter @matthewdford, or get in touch with him by commenting on this post.
I recently discovered a surprising connection between two seemingly unrelated cards in my wallet. The first was a national parks pass, which provides access to all of the U.S.’s national parks and monuments (I’ve been avidly visiting as many as possible this year). The second was my debit card, which was compromised in the Target security breach from earlier this year.
After attending a talk by Bill Tweed, a former park ranger at Sequoia National Park and author of Uncertain Path: A Search for the Future of National Parks, I realized that the challenges the park system faces with security from outside threats points to opportunities for innovation in connected devices and cybersecurity.
Throughout his lecture, Tweed argued that the national park system was created with the flawed intent that one could fence off a region and preserve it “forever unimpaired for generations to come.” This notion was largely derived from classical views of biology, which focused on understanding the behaviors of individual organisms. In contrast, as Tweed emphasized, modern biology focuses on ecosystems, or relationships between organisms, instead of simple taxonomy.
This shift in perspective has led to much debate within the parks, given that actions outside the park’s border affect what happens within. It’s not enough to put a wall around something and try to manage it internally, in isolation from external factors like climate change. The conflict has always been whether (and how) to interfere with ecosystems. If a lightning strike starts a wildfire in Yosemite, should you extinguish the fire or let nature take its course?
The question of fencing in something we value without adequate acknowledgement of its environment and outside influences is also a symptom of current technology. Over the last 10 years, the Internet has transformed how we use technology, forcing us to consider not just the performance of an individual device, but the interactions between our devices and the data they exchange. While Apple found success integrating mobile software and services, Japanese technology companies, such as Sony and Hitachi, took a big hit in global market share as they focused on optimizing the performance of individual hardware without regard to the way that hardware connected to external services.
Mobile computing has created a large shift from devices to ecosystems, bringing integrated experiences with increasing levels of complexity in protecting data and devices from outside threats. It’s no surprise that the market for cybersecurity is on the rise. In the next few years, the connected home and Internet of Things will bring millions of new devices online, each of them with the potential to be hacked. Security compromises to cars, thermostats, or medical devices could be far more dangerous than a virus that attacks a desktop computer.
As the technological fences come down in favor of greater exchange, companies and governments are balancing demand for integrated experiences with the need for heightened security. In one interesting take on this challenge, and in an effort to streamline government services and build their economy, Estonia launched a digital citizenship program, providing each citizen with a card and two "authentication" and "authorization" PINs for corporate, tax, and healthcare transactions and processes. These cards limit and distribute the data associated with each account, protecting against potential security breaches. Investors abroad can easily become “satellite citizens” and establish companies that will give Estonia a global reach.
Security concerns are prompting more and more consumers to value data ownership. When Target announced that 40 million customers had their cards compromised, they followed the typical corporate response of signing customers up for subscription account monitoring service with Experian, who in turn packages and sells customer data to marketers. Customers have also become aware of the amount of data companies like Facebook and Google store and sell, and the revelation that Facebook conducted social experiments on its users has further fueled the growing distrust.
The move toward distributing data away from company servers is ripe for innovations in security. Companies like Wickr are evolving the path set by Snapchat by eliminating servers entirely and bringing encryption and temporary data storage solely to individual devices. Likewise, Indie Box is enabling customers to control their own cloud, transforming the belief that Dropbox is the best way to store data.
As we move forward, the challenge for companies innovating across industries with connected devices will be similar to the challenge of building a park without a fence. For our national parks, redefining ownership and decentralizing control may be the best approach to managing dynamic external forces. Tweed points to Scotland as an as example for the future of national parks. The collective spirit and values of individual ownership have created a park system with no borders, where citizens take responsibility for the treasured spaces and treat them like cherished belongings.
Customers will soon demand tools and flexibility to own their data. Moving data away from servers is easy to understand for instant messaging, but what does it mean for the connected home, banking, healthcare, and other sectors? A change in revenue models may be the key. Flexible, subscription-based APIs that link a host of hardware devices and software platforms for the transactions they complete would make data more nimble and secure while handing control back to the very customers who generate and exchange information.
Connected devices and mobile computing are fundamentally changing the interactions and ecosystems of daily life. From buying groceries and cooking dinner, to filing taxes and getting a medical checkup, advances in security will make or break the next wave of innovation. And, like the national park system, the future depends on how we choose to intervene.