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back to article Futurologist warns of malevolent dust menace

As if botnet clients and infected USB devices weren't bad enough, security pros of the future may be faced with the menace of "smart dust" information stealing threats, if a futurologist is to be believed. Ian Pearson reckons that so-called "smart dust" will be the stuff of future IT security nightmares. Smart dust is nothing to …

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Bronze badge
Coat

Shouldn't that be...

Roomba'd up?

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Boffin

Smart Dust? Gimme some!

Man this sounds like a good new kind of nose candy!

Maybe the man who made the prediction is using too much.

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Title, my liege? Why marry, thy name is Moderatrix

Oh dear. Another 'grey goo' apocalyptic. Does no-one bother to think about where these ghastly devices might possibly get the energy required to move, compute, and transmit.

It's bollocks.

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Boffin

@"get the energy required"

Whilst I don't believe smart dust is an issue, it has however already been shown to work via solar/light and/or "waste" energy like stray RF.

Also the nearest practical application we have so far to smart dust is passive RFID tags, some of which are very small (and have even been marketed as smart dust by some companies). Note the word passive, as these solve the power issue providing a source of power you don't even believe exists and yet we already have billions of them in use now!

(Hitachi mu-chip, is just 0.4 x 0.4 millimeters and their new chips (which have been called RFID powder) are just 0.05 x 0.05 millimeters so they literally do look like a very fine powder).

Plus more experimentally we already have microscopic microphones which have been demonstrated to work.

The basic concepts of smart dust are to put these already existing technologies together with ad hoc networking (and say some flash memory), so you get a data gathering network.

So is it possible?, theoretically very much so, but I don't believe its a security threat and as for directly linking into hardware, thats just dreaming.

But for the most part it is very much possible, as its based on already existing technologies simply put together. So you cannot argue the problem is powering it because billions of them already work. (So even if the building is in darkeness you simply bathe the building in power via an RF transmitter until your data gathering network has done its spying, but even that is unlikely to be needed as light and/or other RF signals can be used for a small bit of power as the amount of power needed just like passive RFID isn't that much).

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FAIL

ANTENNAS ??

For any antenna to be effective it must be dimensioned in the range of 10*WL to 0,1*WL, with WL being the Wavelength.

In the air

c=WL*f

with c=300000000m/s (speed of light)

and f being the frequency

That means

f= c/WL

f=300000000m/s / 0.00005m == 600 GHz

Mobiles have just 2 GHz, satcom less than 80 GHz. I doubt there is much RF power "in the office air" between 60 an 6000 GHz. So the only option you have is to put a tiny battery on the "dust" (which might be OK for a few minutes) or flood the space with your sophisticated 600GHz gear.

And you don't get a 600GHz transistor at Radio shack...

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WTF?

@Willy Messerschmitt and Antennas??

Try this link (e.g. Microstrip antennas), it avoids the length limitations of the bog standard antenna you are talking about...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microstrip_antenna

The point is there are many antenna designs and you are only considering the most basic (either school level antenna designs or your electronics knowledge is out of date by about 40 years).

Also add in a small photovoltaic array and add a small ultra capacitor and you get an ability to accumulate power ready for busts of activity, after all they don't have to be on continuously.

Plus some RFID use battery assisted passive hardware, e.g.

http://www.racoindustries.com/alientechnology_battery.htm

(While other RFID designs are simply powered by the RF they receive).

So there are many practical ways to already overcome the limitations you assume and its getting better all the time.

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I was just about to say that.

Between antenna gain/effective area for the frequencies a thing like that can reasonably use and the power they can reasonably transmit, the Friis transmission formula is starting to look pretty grim.

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Its not pretty grim

All this talk about power received by an antenna is missing the point the usable range of these devices is metres not miles. Thats how these devices are practical. Even just 30 metres is enough for remote sensing. Its not ideal, but thats life.

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FAIL

oh noes

And when human kind Merges into a single conciousness 2 years after this they will know everything anyway !!!

quite simple ionize the air comming into the building !!

this guy has been reading to many science fiction books

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Damn

Looks like I'm going to have to track down that dumb arse keyboard vacuum my Mrs bought me years ago.

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FAIL

smart dust?

As believable as porcine aviation and pyschic octopus!

oh, wait....

But seriously, unless he's talking nano-swarms I suspect he's just pulled something clever sounding out of his arse!

And for a nano-swarm, to function it would need to maintain some form of swarm integrity as each individual nano-bot would only have a microscopic fraction of the swarms total memory (i.e. ability to actually store any info stolen) and a minuscule fraction of the transmitting equipment.

Desk fans anyone?

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Silver badge

Futurologist?

He must have just read "A Deepness in the Sky" by Vernor Vinge

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You got it right

Frankly, I wish futureologits (misspelling deliberate) would just shut up. If they read a bit more, they'd know they're almost always just parroting ideas put into print 20 years earlier by plenty science fiction authors who have already moved on to something more interesting.

/rant

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Simple solution.

Ask Dyson to invent a smart vacuum cleaner.

Sorted.

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Gold badge
Coat

@Anonymous John

"Ask Dyson to invent a smart vacuum cleaner.

Sorted."

Don't you mean "snorted"?

I'll get my coat now.

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WTF?

Brain fart

So some "futurologist" has a brain fart, and this is news... because?

Perhaps this is not Pullman "dust" but Margery Doors "dust?"

"Dust, anyone?"

Is it Friday yet?

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Big Brother

Future threats to our security and privacy...

I think the concept of a smart dust collective (whilst interesting) is a very distant somewhat esoteric theoretical threat to our security/privacy.

What we need to be focusing on is threats that will affect us over the next about 10 to 20 years.

I think a far bigger issue is the near total loss of our privacy for all but the rich and powerful people in the world. The point is we don't need to worry about smart dust spyware dropped on us, to loose our security and privacy when our entire lives are increasingly already being picked over and traded by companies and governments behind our backs. So we won't have any security or privacy long before futuristic theoretical threats become an issue.

The rich and powerful bosses of companies (and politicians) increasingly behave as if all our data belongs to them, for their exploitation, their protection, their desires for ever more wealth, and their ability to maintain their position of power over us to continue to exploit us. (But then thats their Narcissistic self interest expressed in their desire to abuse others for their own gain). All our data increasingly belongs to them. That is a far bigger threat to our security and privacy because ever more technology is increasingly not even owned by us. The technology is increasingly being twisted and abused into a way of acting like spyware by design to become a backdoor into our entire lives to leak data on us. That is our future threat and that is increasingly happening now.

Also having the ability to opt out is increasingly not going to work. We will be forced to conform to be spied on. Societies are ruled by herding people on mass to do what the rich and powerful want ultimately for their gain leaving anyone who doesn't want to conform to their wishes with little choice but to fall in line, because the rich and powerful close off choices to force people to do what they want. After all, that is what having power over people really means. The ability to force others to conform.

That is our future threat to our security and privacy and that is increasingly happening now. Our future threat isn't about hacking its about systemic spying by design on our lives. Spyware increasingly built directly into our lives.

Sadly George Orwell was a very good futurologist :(

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Silver badge

Slow glass

Sounds like someone read Bob Shaw's "Light from other days" and somehow incorporated the concept into some kind of non-specific threat.

(briefly: the story is about a scientist who develops a form of glass that immensely slows down the speed of light. To the point where a pane of glass can "store" an image for many years and play it back. This gets used both for scenic displays and as a surveillance device - although the explanation on how it forms a coherent image leaves a lot. Mostly the book is about the social effects of always being watched)

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Thumb Up

ohh

sounds good

i read another book similar to this studying the social breakdown and restructuring from people being able to viw any point in time via a wormhole.

Was a really good book but cant remeber the title for the life of me.

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Silver badge

Slow Glass.

'Light of Other Days' was a short story subsequently expanded into the novel 'Other Days Other Eyes' - just in case anyone wanted a bit of Bob Shaw and has problems finding the short story version.

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Yup, it's a title.

It'll be the one by Stephen Baxter & Arthur C. Clarke, with the same title, The Light of Other Days. I enjoyed that one...

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Anonymous Coward

OT: poem Light of Other Days

OT, just for interest: Light of Other Days is also a beautiful, melancholy 19th-century poem by Thomas Moore. cf http://bartelby.org/41/484.html

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Replace 'smart dust'

with 'underpant gnomes' and this makes a whole lot more sense to me.

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Coffee/keyboard

@Replace 'smart dust'

You, sir, owe me one keyboard. And a phone.

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Coffee/keyboard

FFS did you have to?

Someone pass the nano-wipes.

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FAIL

Does no one read comics?

Saying the idea was first put forward in His Dark Materials is rubbish, for one the transmetropolitan series of comics by Dark horse publishing had such dust kicking around (it killed the main character in the end having been exposed to the stuff twice) not to mention Arthur C Clarke wrote a short story about such things in the 60's.

If you want to predict our doom and gloom, please come up with something either mildly original or believable/likely then we might pay attention

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Headmaster

*ahem* Oddball

It didn't actually kill Spider... re read the end

Yes, Information pollen and nano-foglets were introduced in Transmetropolitian

Awesome series.

Now where are my filthy assistants !?!?!

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Thumb Up

These are the same futurologists who failed to foresee mobile phones.

If you look back at previous pronouncements of futurologists, then you find that absolutely none of them predicted the incredible success of mobile phones, and the SMS protocol. Videophones were and are widely assumed to be the up-and-coming tech of the future; no videophone has ever been successful, mostly because it is a lot harder to lie to someone using one.

Like pretty much everything else the futurologists spout, this is very likely to be utter tosh. We already have highly effective nanotech systems; they're called bacteria and they're not a problem, even in ideal habitats for them if you take precautions to poison them out. Nanotech is very likely to behave in the same way; initially a bit of a problem, then no problem at all with appropriate countermeasures.

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Silver badge

title title title

My thoughts, more or less.

Abraham Derby, the early iron master forsaw the day when all men would ride Iron Horses (nearly right) live in Iron Homes (not really, except for steel framed towers) eat off Iron furniture (only in twee coffee shops) wear Iron clothing (mind control beanie anyone?) and be buried in Iron coffins. (What? to be carried by Iron mourners, no doubt). None of his ideas was impossible, but quite a lot of them were daft.

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"The Diamond Age"

Sorry Ian Pearson, but Neal Stephenson was there 15 years ago. According to your page, Ian, you have "been a full time futurologist since 1991", so writers of hard-SF-cum-sociology like Stephenson should have been well on your radar.

Not only does Stephenson cover what nanotech can do (such as various nervous-system add-ons, a completely different economy based on information, or the possibility of mass-murder of entire ethnic groups), but he also covers solutions to some of its problems (such as a defense-in-depth screen strategy for stopping killer nanosites getting through).

Ironically it's not actually a very good read. But if you have even the slightest interest in nanotech and you haven't read it, it's roughly the equivalent of being interested in theology and not having read the Bible.

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This post has been deleted by its author

Too Late

"Tiny specks of smart dust dropped through ventilation grills on office equipment will allow interception of data before it even gets to an encryption device. Slightly ‘cleverer’ smart dust could even allow documents to be subtly altered while they are being printed."

Surely every day 'stupid' dust in the right place can do these things already.

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Pint

Someone’s been playing Deus Ex - Invisible War.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_0ZzwptEUI

.

Futurologists = Sci-Fi author wannabes without writing ability.

Beer, because I too can predict the future.

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NB
Badgers

'Futurologist'?

more like 'futurLOLogist' amirite?

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Never Say Never

Work of fiction by Raymond Khoury- The Sign is all about smart dust...

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Grenade

<sigh>

I bet that clueless git got paid more by fujitsu than I do, then again I know what I'm doing so I don't deserve decent pay

Even Gillian McKeith would have come out with less shit than that.

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Boffin

Futurologists

Futurologists have a dismal track record, and work on the same principle as "cold reading" used by illusionists to "mind read" an audience. In cold reading, you spout an endless stream of things and some small percentage match some audience member who self filters the matches. Futurologists, such as Ray Kurzweil, spew an endless stream of ideas, many obvious, and years later cherry pick the tiny percentage that, often with a stretch, "came true" to some extent.

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Stop

I'm still waiting

For the robot infested life of leisure they promised me.

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Stop

...as do financial advisors

Typically, they spout predictions ad nauseum, then recall only those that came true.

Better, most of the few investment funds that claim 5 consecutive years of "beating the market" likely, are just statistical artifacts - the expected outliers in the normal distribution of the many existing funds (with a mean of break-even), all of which could be picking their investment targets and timing on a random basis, and still produce a handful with 5 consecutive plus years. Sorting the gurus from the chaff in that lot takes deeper investigation.

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WTF?

Futurologist

I, too, have read the diamond age.

Why has nobody noticed yet that I'm a FUTUROLOGIST? Why is nobody interviewing me about stuff?? So unfair!

Pleeeze???

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Not worth worrying about

a) because it's probably impossible due to power requirements

b) certainly not any time Real Soon Now

c) if we can ever make smart spyware dust, then we can also make smart dust to detect & remove it - which will start off a happy little arms race...

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Grenade

Why so futuristic?

OK, design a very small lump of semiconductor that includes:

1. Power gathering components, leaching from leaked magnetic fields around power cables

2. Data transmission components of low power, both consumption and transmission

3. Some form of information gathering components

4. A bit of processing power and a small amount of memory

Arrange these so that they can form a collaborative self healing network that will pass information from one to another.

Scatter them in a building.

Arrange to have a listening point outside (or even inside) the building using a WAN network technology such as 3G to pass the information on.

Three of the four requirements are already met by RFID tags. The only one missing is the data gathering. The collaborative, self healing network technology is already around, at least in principal (think OLPC, and I'm sure there was a kids device that used to pass messages in an informal ad-hoc network to other devices in range).

The thing that needs to be improved is the scale. RFID tags are too big currently, and power consumption is still too high, and gathering it still needs too large an antenna to pick up the power.

But these are exactly the problems that more sophisticated technology can fix! If, as predicted, there could be high efficiency wireless LED lighting using transmitted power, which is a technology being worked on at the moment (first link found from Google, there are others http://blogs.pcworld.com/staffblog/archives/004605.html), there could be ample power around for the smart dust. If the dust particles are mere centimetres apart, the amount of power needed to transmit and receive information would be minimal. And making the devices smaller using the level of mask shrinkage from the current memory and processor programs will make the devices smaller and lower power.

Disguise the devices as variously skin flakes, human hairs (think the antenna), bugs, biscuit crumbs, scraps of paper, sandwich wrappers, vending machine cups (Hmmm, thermal power!), all of which are larger than dust, and mainly unnoticeable (turn your keyboard over and shake it to see what is there), and Bob's your Uncle (or in my case, Bill's my Uncle).

The only problem then remaining would the the data gathering. I'll leave that as a problem for others.

If I am the first combining these, and it is enough for a patent application, I claim this as Prior Art!

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FAIL

ANTENNA-FAIL

"Arrange to have a listening point outside (or even inside) the building using a WAN network technology such as 3G to pass the information on."

WL=c/f== 300000000m/s / 2000000000Hz == 0,15m

That means an effective antenna must be between 1.5 and 150cms. Hint: look at the size of your cellphone. They don't shrink the antenna to below 2cms. (about one inch for the Land Of The Merkins People)

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Silver badge
FAIL

RE: ANTENNA-FAIL

I was not suggesting 3G for the smart dust, just the listening point that would receive whatever frequency the dust was using, and re-transmit using 3G. The listening point would not have to be dust-sized, just hidden, and possibly outside of the building.

I admit small antenna==high frequencies, and high frequencies generally mean high power, but I'm not talking about driving a signal 10's of metres, merely to the next smart dust speck, and then to the next (get it, collaborative networking).

Please actually read what I wrote, because although I am not a chip designer, or a transmission specialist, I believe that I have a reasonable grounding in electronics (it being part of my degree) and computing (ditto), not that you would know that.

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Happy

Re: Antenna Fail? Je quoi-que non!

So, about 2cm... which is about the length of a common human hair one might find on the floor, the desk, under the monitor/keyboard/phone/etc?

OP already postulated that the antenna could be "disguised" as hair like those we shed by the tens or hundreds (Rogain?!) every day. Depending the tech, perhaps an artificial protein similar to that found in hair could, in fact, be the antenna.

Of course, this would be far more noticable in a clean room environment as opposed to the normal government office with the 60's carpets and less than immaculate desk hygiene.

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Headmaster

Nit-picking pedantry

"it was hard Sci-Fi giant Arthur C Clarke who first came up with idea of geostationary satellites."

1) Clarke didn't come up with the idea of geostationary satellites, that was first published when he was 11. He did come up with the idea of using them for relaying telecommunications.

2) He wasn't a hard SF giant at the time he published his idea, as he his first professional sale of an SF story was a year later.

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Alien

Argh, not again..

"just off to the dianetics clinic darling, won't be long, got covered in smart dust at work again"

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Thumb Up

Smart dust isn't a problem for IT

It's the big dumb things that us IT that are the problem

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Sounds like those futurologists...

have been snorting too much modafinil.

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