The first thing I noticed about CES this year was COVID’s impact on the event, which was more than just attendance size. A large amount of the technology focused on sanitation, everything from using light to sanitize surfaces on point-of-sale systems to hand-washing stations.

When I attend events such as this, which are not 100% security-related, I still approach them with a very strong security mindset and take the opportunity to talk to many of the vendors about the subject of security within their products. This often has mixed results, with many of those working the booths at CES having more focused knowledge on product functionality and capabilities, not technical questions related to product security.  This year was no different, but I still had fun talking about security with many of those working their product booth, and as usual, I had some great conversations.

For example, I love when I see a product that typically wouldn’t be considered smart technology, but then see that it has been retrofitted with some level of smart tech to expand its usefulness, like a toothbrush. This year, I headed right to those booths and started asking security questions, and I was surprised at the responses I got, even though security was not their area of expertise as, say, an oral hygienist. They were still interested in talking about security and made every effort to either answer my question or find the answer. They also were quick to start asking me questions around what they should be concerned with and how would products like theirs be properly tested.

A healthy curiosity

Moving on from there, as usual, I encountered wearable smart technology, which has always been a big item at CES. Going beyond the typical devices to track your steps, smartwatches continue to be improved with a focus on monitoring key health stats including blood pressure, oxygen levels, heart rate, EKG, and even blood sugar levels for diabetics.

At Abbott's booth, which had several products including the Libre Freestyle for monitoring blood glucose level, which is a product I use. Abbott is releasing a new sensor for this product that has a much smaller profile, and I'm looking forward to that. Since they had no live demos of their currently marketed Libre FreeStyle product, I volunteered to demo my unit for another CES attendee.

One of the Abbott booth employees asked me why I still use their handheld unit and haven’t switched to their mobile application, which was perfect timing for me to start talking security. During the conversation, I told them that I hadn’t personally tested their mobile application and regularly avoid placing apps on my phone that I haven’t security-tested. They all chimed in and recommended that I test their mobile application and let them know if it has any issues that they need to fix. So, I guess I need to add that to my to-do list.

Facing the future

Next, I encountered the typical facial recognition systems we regularly see at CES — but now, they all appear to be able to measure body temperatures and identify you despite wearing a mask. Of course, they also now support contract tracing to help identify if you've encountered someone who is COVID-positive.  Also, many companies have made their devices more friendly by enabling them to automatically greet you at the door.

Personally, I always have reservations when it comes to facial recognition systems. Don’t get me wrong: I get the value they can bring. But sadly, in the long haul, I expect the data gathered will end up being misused, just like data gathered using other methods. Someone will find a way to commoditize this data if they aren’t already.

Charged up

Another area I expected to see at CES was electric-vehicle (EV) technology, and I wasn’t disappointed. Some may think I’m weird, but my focus wasn’t necessarily on the expensive cars and flying vehicles, although they’re very interesting — it was the charging stations.

With US plans to deploy charging stations across the nation, there’s a large marketplace to support public and home charging systems, and there were many solutions of this kind on display at CES. Several of the vendors indicated they were looking to snap up some of that market share and were actively working to have their products certified in the US.  

With EV chargers most likely all being connected or potentially having the ability to impact the electric grid in various ways, I think security should play a big role in their design and deployment, and I took the opportunity to have some security discussions with several vendors. One vendor specifically designed and produced only EV charging hardware, not the software, and had staff at the event who could engage comfortably on the subject of security. Even though this organization hadn’t yet conducted any independent security testing on their product, they understood the value of doing so and asked a number of questions, including details on the processes and methodologies.

Robots: Convenient or creepy?

What would CES be if we didn’t take a quick look at robot technology?  

Like many, I’m intrigued and freaked out by robots  at the same time. The first ones to look at were the service robots, which are less creepy than others and could be very useful in activities like delivering parts on a shop floor or serving up refreshments at a party.

The convenience of using robots for these tasks is great, and I look forward to seeing this play out some day at a party I am attending. Although, with the typical crowds I run with, I expect everyone will be trying to hack on it and paying very little attention to the food it’s serving.

Finally, I looked at the creepier side of robots. The UK pavilion had a robot that was able to have lifelike facial and hand gestures. I found these features to be very impressive. If this tech could be built to be mobile and handle human interactions, I would say we have advanced to a new level, but I expect this is only mimicking these features, and we still have further to go before we will be living the Jetsons.

Also, Boston Dynamics and Hyundai were at CES.  Their advanced robotics work always impresses and also scares me a little, and I'm not alone.  My only disappointment was that I couldn’t get into the live demo of the technology. I waited in line, but the interest in the live show was high, and space was limited.  

With advancements in robotics like these, we must all give this some deep consideration and answer the questions: What will this tech be used for? And how can we properly secure it? Because if it’s misused or not properly secured, it can lead to issues we never want to deal with. With that said, this robot tech is amazing, and I expect it can be a real game-changer in a number of positive areas.

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