You may love being able to set your thermostat from your car miles before you reach your house, but be warned — the NSA probably loves it too. On Friday, the National Security Agency — you know, the federal organization known for wiretapping and listening it on U.S. citizens’ conversations — told an audience at Washington’s Newseum that it’s looking into using the Internet of Things and other connected devices to keep tabs on individuals.
“We’re looking at it sort of theoretically from a research point of view right now,” Richard Ledgett, the NSA’s deputy director, said at the military technology conference on Friday. And given how broadly defined the Internet of Things is today (think everything from a fitness wearable to a smart home hub), there’s a lot of room for … experimentation.
In particular, Ledgett spoke of the possibility of biomedical devices as a treasure trove for NSA data collection. Calling it “a niche kind of thing … a tool in the toolbox,” the director noted that the wealth of personal biometric information such devices provide could be hugely helpful in keeping track of terrorists, foreign intelligence agents, and the like. And as the internet and ecosystem of connected things grows ever larger, Ledgett called the ever-changing landscape both a “security nightmare [and] a signals intelligence bonanza.”
Of course, law abiding citizens of the U.S. shouldn’t have much to fear. After all, the purpose of the NSA, is to ostensibly protect Americans from outside threats, though sometimes they may reside inside the country.
“In the future, intelligence services might use the [internet of things] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials,” James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, said in testimony submitted to the Senate on Tuesday.
But ultimately, Ledgett noted that the main focus is on the technology “bad guys” use, which is why the agency didn’t help the FBI in cracking the iPhone case in San Bernardino. In terms of exploiting iPhone vulnerability, the deputy director noted, “We don’t do every phone, every variation of phone. If we don’t have a bad guy who’s using it, we don’t do that.”