What Google Glass Means for Security

By June 11, 2013Surveillance

what google glass means for security

Google prides itself on being an innovator and this is no idle boast. In the last decade, the company has established a reputation for constantly improving on modern technologies.

Google wasn’t the world’s first search engine, but today it is undoubtedly the most popular. The same is true for many of its other products. Gmail is one the top five email services, Android is one of the top operating systems for mobile platforms, and Google+ is now listed within the pantheon of social media gods – particularly for businesses and video “hangouts.” So it is not surprising to find that Google Glass is set to become the most talked about addition to the digital world.

The Google Glass

In case you missed it, Google Glass is the company’s impressive take on the future of mobile computing. Designed like a pair of glasses, the device is essentially a wearable computer, which is fitted with a head-mounted display. From a distance, it looks like a stylish take on the monocle.

Google Glass is equipped with various innovative features. For instance, it supports voice commands and offers hand-free controls that allow users to interact with the operating system while on the go. In addition to this, Glass comes equipped with a Bluetooth and Wi-Fi support, light sensing technology, and a camera capable of shooting videos in strong 720p resolutions.

The Security Threat

Google Glass may have obvious potential; but it also brings up several security issues. One of these is how susceptible the device is to hacking. Beyond the device’s aesthetic, Google Glass is essentially a computer – one with no authentication system or PIN. This makes it incredibly easy for hackers to break into and “take control” of the device. One can only wonder if Google will implement retina scans to secure its users privacy.

The dangers to this security oversight are obvious. As an example, this could give hackers unlimited access to your phone records and to any other device that is linked to the glass. Hackers would also be able to monitor and “see” everything that you do.

The potential applications to corporate espionage are chilling. If you were to read a sensitive work document, hackers may be able to lift it by piggybacking off the glasses’ video feed. Hackers would also be able to record your daily routine, catch your password and learn things about you that no one else would other know.

Their surveillance range would not be restricted to just visual cues. As mentioned earlier, Google Glass is designed to recognize voice commands and comes with a sensitive microphone that picks up even the slightest sounds. Hackers can, therefore, listen in on your conversation and any other conversation around you. In fact, the only thing that you would not be giving away would be your thoughts. It is a potential security nightmare.

According to security estimates, it would take roughly ten minutes for any skilled hacker to break into the “rooted” operating system that ships with Google. In just a few moments, your computer could be invaded without your knowledge. While this could be a huge asset to the private investigation field, it could be a nightmare for everyday users.

Still, it is worth noting that users of the Google Glass can also adapt the device to security ploys of their own. For example, a disgruntled employee could record a sensitive business meeting and instantly upload it to the web without leaving the office. Google Glass could also be used to spy on people and capture incriminating photographs without the subject’s knowledge.

All of these different risks have led many to call for a ban or temporary halt on the production of the Glass. There is even an ongoing petition aimed at the White House, asking that the device be banned. So far, the government has yet to respond.

Face Recognition Apps

Another contentious area is that of face recognition. If this feature were enabled with the device, it would allow the wearer to instantly identify the people around them, in effect invading their privacy. Casinos have already pointed out that the use of Glass would make it easier for people to cheat and have therefore banned its use (even though the device is yet to be publicly released).

These security concerns have a lot of merit. Reacting to the general opinion, Google has announced that it has no plans to release integrated face recognition apps with the Glass, which may offer some relief to most people. However, the company’s stance could easily change in the future. Additionally, there could be add-on apps created by hackers or computer gurus that easily allows one to avoid these safety precautions.

The list of potential security risks goes on and on – couples spying on each other, ex-lovers stalking one another, employees spying on their bosses, and even cheating within the classrooms.

There is little doubt that the ability of people to almost seamlessly access the web and transfer information is going to force a revision of many of the current security measures and protocols in place. Already, Google is working on ways to curb or reduce the potential security conflicts that the Glass might cause. As an example, the company has updated the current Glass terms to include policies on gambling, hate speech and the use of explicit material. These rules are vague though, and companies are bound to get around them.

Some critics have tried to argue around the current fears. Some have pointed out that, like computers, Google Glass is likely to come with some lit indicator that shows when the camera and microphone are active. However, such checks can easily be missed. Another idea that is currently being fielded is the inclusion of a rubber patch, which slips over the camera when it is not being used to prevent unauthorized live feeds.

Depending on who you talk to, the Google Glass is either the next greatest invention or fad that is doomed to fail. Regardless of what might occur, one thing is certain – with the debut of the Google Glass drawing near, things in the digital world are likely to become quite a bit more interesting.