Technology, Unintended consequences, and security

[ Catching up on old news. ]

So over in Detroit, “officials are worried”: about a new gadget for sale that can change traffic lights from red to green.

It makes sense to create green lights for emergency vehicles, because they respond faster when they don’t get stuck in traffic. Right? So, a long time back, several cities (including Detroit) installed sensors on traffic lights, and transmitters on emergency vehicles, that would allow the emergency vehicles to change red lights to green.

Now consumer versions of the transmitters are available for sale, so legislators are scrambling for a solution.

It occurs to me that this is a common theme. New technology arrives, available to a restricted few (however necessary that restriction may be). Then someone comes along and breaks into a system, or clones a new technology, or whatever, and now it’s available to all (with undesirable consequences).

The light changers work with infra-red transmissions, and are apparently quite simple. In my opinion, it would have been only slightly harder to install a lower-cost version of military IFF gear instead of an expensive version of a TV remote control.

But security is too expensive to install up front, and we don’t really need it anyway, right?

I’m not being completely fair here; I’ve done my fair share of cutting corners over time. But the point here is that, in our modern, unrestricted marketplace, it really does only take _one_ person to figure out a loophole and exploit it…

posted at 8:22 pm on Saturday, October 11, 2003 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on Technology, Unintended consequences, and security

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