Overview

Climate Change

At first glance it is not necessarily easy to see the impact cybersecurity and tech has on climate change. However, these intricacies become apparent when examining the relationship between energy use/consumption and climate change.

Global power consumption is an issue that must be addressed sooner rather than later. In addition to tradition cybersecurity threats - big energy companies are especially vulnerable to cyber attacks[1] - energy generation and consumption are clearly related to cybersecurity through practical means. The impact it has on climate change is real - for example, emissions are rising with the use of internet-connected devices around the world[2] (about 5% of the world’s consumption now is through internet-connected devices, but is rising continually).[3] Additional uses of big data bases (which use 2% of the world’s energy consumption)[4] and things such as Bitcoin mining[5] consume huge amounts of energy, with some studies positing that although Bitcoin is already flagged for large consumption, its actual consumption amount is underestimated.[6] The level of consumption is drastic, but what is more concerning is the level of energy consumption from the internet and internet-connected devices. A study from a Swedish company found that the Internet uses 10% of the world's energy - which is more than can be produced by renewable sources such as solar and wind power (this does not include hydro and nuclear power).[7]

Misinformation was covered in previous units and showed that the internet was a powerful tool in certain hands. However, misinformation is alive and well in the above mentioned energy issues, specifically with people who call climate change a hoax. For example, there has been an increase in internet users seeing misinformation campaigns on topics such as climate change intended to discredit governments and international actors.[8] This information is often created and spread through private companies with a stake in the energy industry.[9]

The above information tells two cautionary tales - first that energy consumption is increasing around the world through the use of the Internet and internet-connected devices, this leads to the concern that some methods of power generation are not going to be enough to maintain the levels of power consumption. The second is that increased use leads to increased emissions resulting in more destructive climate change issues for the future.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

Related to the increase of internet-connected devices’ energy consumption is the advances in technology that make those devices available to everyone. A note, internet-connected devices will be referred to now as the Internet of Things (IoT) and could range from a cell phone to a smart refrigerator to the thermostat that automatically changes the temperature in a ‘smart house’ - essentially anything that can be connected to and controlled via the internet.[10]

There are positive advantages to the IoT, for example the IoT can be used to drastically decrease energy consumption[11] by improving solar and wind power,[12] and ‘Smart Cities’ in the future are no longer something out of a science fiction novel.[13] However, the security issues arising from these interconnected devices are real and present, and play into both the national/international security realm, as well as personal security since anything connected to the internet has the potential to be hacked.[14] For example, in 2016 botnets from the IoT were responsible for a partial shutdown of the Internet.[15] While this mainly resulted in big sites such as Netflix or Hulu being shut down for a period of time, the implications for personal and state security were plain - if the IoT impacted private companies so drastically, it was possible to surveil, hack, or steal state or personal data - or to hack personal webcams. This is especially relevant to potential future issues as many IoT devices, such as water cleanliness monitors or even management of ships or docking stations for shipments of goods or services, could be hacked and threaten trade, diplomatic efforts, or even national security.[16]

While advancements in technology have huge benefits, there is the concern that with huge advances comes potential security implications and drawbacks that are, as of yet, unknown. In addition to the growing importance of the IoT in people’s everyday lives and security issues, advances in technology could lead to future implications we can only barely understand. For example, self-driving electric cars.[17] While it seems convenient, there is still the potential for them to be hacked or controlled externally, leading to personal security threats.[18] There has been continuous calls for legislation to prevent abusing the IoT and increasing security on the multitude of devices connected to each other and to the internet. In November 2020, the U.S. Congress passed a bill that will focus on enhancing safeguards in devices - specifically for the Federal Government in the hopes that it would expand from there.[19]

Final Thought

With the above information, it is clear that Cybersecurity is related to many aspects of our daily lives and our future security. While there are negative aspects regarding energy consumption, personal IoT use and security, misinformation, and other security concerns, there are also many benefits to recognizing the link between everyday issues such as Climate Change or the IoT, and Cybersecurity. And there are positive aspects to consider as well. Emerging technologies can help slow the progress of climate change and enhance personal security and cultural preservation. Space is closer than ever to the average person, and there are improvements on refugee aid and security. The importance of Cybersecurity and emerging Technologies is still becoming apparent in every aspect of our lives. The important aspect of this is to ensure that we manage and use it as the tool it is, for the benefit of society both now and in the future.

Questions for Critical Thinking

  1. How does the IoT impact your daily life?
  2. What are the gendered implications of the IoT (not the gender equality implications, the gendered perspective implications)?
  3. How are advances in Climate Change impacting the cybersecurity realm, and vice versa?
  4. What are the implications of new technologies in the Climate Change realm?

Gender Component

Gender equality and women’s status is distinctly related to Climate Change. On one hand existing power structures mean that women often bear the brunt of climate change impacts, especially in low-income and agricultural societies, (in the form of droughts, displacement, and even less food to eat).[1] On the other, it has been shown that gender equality improves as their involvement in preventing climate change increases. Additionally, more sustainable methods for reducing climate change are created when women are included in the process.[2] It is important to note that climate change impacts individuals based on a variety of factors - gender being a predominant one.[3] The connection between gender equality and climate change/cyber security & new technologies can be a domino effect. For example, harvesting bitcoin produces emissions on a vast scale, triggering displacement when people leave their agricultural village to find water and more resources. Women who are displaced are disproportionately targeted for sexual abuse/harassment. Alternatively, women work together to find sustainable alternatives for energy emissions due to technology or the impact of cyber.

While the IoT poses risks to women in general with issues such as webcam hacking and their physical security, the IoT also poses new challenges to women’s physical security in situations of domestic abuse and intimate partner violence.[4] For example, while the show ‘Mr. Robot’ focused on how hacking into a smart house would allow outside users to control the people inside, the reality is there are now instances of that exact scenario happening.[5] Many people, specifically women, reported new forms of domestic abuse in a unique way: their ex-partners still had access to remote-controlled home devices such as the thermostat, lights, etc., and they were manipulating them to exert their control and power.[6] The ramifications of this type of remote harassment are extremely negative, especially if they branch into the physical violence realm. The issue with the IoT and harassment is especially problematic as many people don’t truly understand what makes the ‘smart’ devices function, and can’t control them.[7]

It is true that women, especially, gain many benefits in regards to the IoT. Although control of certain devices can seem terrifying, home security in the forms of video cameras or sensor lights are just a couple of examples how the physical security of women can be increased due to the IoT.[8] Additionally, although there is still a gender equality gap in the IoT, more women are beginning to work on coding specific programs that relate to the IoT. In fact, many women are joining the growing industry surrounding the IoT. Unfortunately, while now more women are entering this specific area for work, and there are many efforts in place to stop domestic abuse or harassment through the IoT, one wonders if more women had been working on the coding and technology in the first place, or if a gendered and feminist perspective had been applied at the beginning of these developments and advances, whether there would be more secure devices, less ability to harass, and more peace of mind when using IoT devices.

Keywords

Artificial Intelligence: "A branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers per the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior"

Biometric Data: "Biometrics are unique physical characteristics, such as fingerprints, that can be used for automated recognition."

Blockchain: " a digital database containing information (such as records of financial transactions) that can be simultaneously used and shared within a large decentralized, publicly accessible network"

Data Centers: "a data center is a physical facility that organizations use to house their critical applications and data."

Digital Footprint: "one's unique set of digital activities, actions, and communications that leave a data trace on the internet or on a computer or other digital device and can identify the particular user or device"

Internet of things: The internet of things refers to anything connected to the internet. Many devices connected to the internet communicate with each other and collect data.

Misinformation: Wrong or misleading information

Renewable Energy: "Renewable energy is energy from sources that are naturally replenishing but flow-limited; renewable resources are virtually inexhaustible in duration but limited in the amount of energy that is available per unit of time."

Supercomputers: "Supercomputer, any of a class of extremely powerful computers. The term is commonly applied to the fastest high-performance systems available at any given time."