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CHIPS Articles: NSA says connected desks aren't what they used to be

NSA says connected desks aren't what they used to be
By CHIPS Magazine - October 22, 2018
Is your desk connected?

You might think the question refers to a desk bolted to a wall or another desk. Soon that question will be about internet connectivity for desks, chairs and other office furnishings as they are increasingly joining the connected world of the internet of things. It is a growing business trend that promotes workforce efficiency by managing the work environment to improve the balance of individual and collaborative work and an employee’s need to rest.

For an organization, there is also interest in the efficient use of space and equipment where worker's varying space and equipment needs often leave single-purpose resources idle for long periods of time.

Office furniture manufacturers are offering IoT connectivity as the solution for minimizing an organization’s costs by wirelessly tracking its use of equipment and spaces. “The information generated from integrated sensors in this ‘smart’ furniture design can help organizations improve worker productivity through an optimized desk layout, personalized lighting, and adjustable desk settings,” according to NSA. Organizations can also maximize use of existing resources, for example, an underutilized executive suite could be converted into a conference room or collaborative space.

Sounds great, right – an office customized to enhance employee comfort and productivity. However, this same connectivity and information gathering raises security and privacy considerations. As connected furniture becomes more common, it is critical to consider potential vulnerabilities that may be integrated into an IoT wireless solution, such as the sensors themselves, NSA says.

Cloud infrastructures pose another potential vulnerability as more and more devices use the cloud for data storage and are at risk for this information to be stolen. Privacy concerns may include the risk of revealing personally identifiable information (PII), through either accidental or intentional malicious efforts to extract information.

NSA is thinking about the implications of connected smart furniture because soon it may not be feasible to buy the old unconnected "dumb" furniture, as some estimates for growth in the smart furniture arena project a 20 percent compound annual growth rate between 2018 and 2026 (Global Smart Furniture Market Size, Market Share, Application Analysis, Regional Outlook, Growth Trends, Key Players, Competitive Strategies and Forecasts, 2018 - 2026, reported March 2018).

Not only will smart furniture be more common, it may become integrated with connected smart buildings, homes and other devices. While we may enjoy the convenience and other benefits of IoT connectivity, as IoT technologies advance and become increasing ubiquitous, organizations and individuals will need to examine a variety of items to manage security and privacy implications in the workplace, as well as at home, because connected devices provide more entry points for adversaries to attack a network than ever before, NSA cautions.

As individuals and organizations are enjoying more personalized settings – for temperature and lighting controls to vehicles and home appliances... we may unknowingly be giving bad actors more sensitive information than we intend, NSA says.

It’s National Cyber Security Awareness Month, visit NSA's cybersecurity page, or StopThinkConnect.org.

 National Cyber Security Awareness Month image of internet of things devices and connections
National Cyber Security Awareness Month image of internet of things devices and connections
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