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Back in the days when electronics were simple and unconnected, securing devices wasn't important. After all, they weren't networked to anything, and so they could not be attacked remotely or cause harm to anything else.

But today's smart objects -- devices that are essentially small computers with communication capabilities -- perform a wide range of functions, interact with each other, and more critically, communicate with the world at large. Virtually any manufactured object either already is or has the potential to be a smart object.

For years, industrial control systems have relied on smart objects like sensors and actuators to interact with, and oversee, factory processes. A typical system consists of devices that send information to a (smarter, wired) control device.

Today's smart objects are tiny, inexpensive to manufacture, and don't need a lot of power - an essential characteristic, since many smart objects are expected to operate long-term without access to the electrical grid. On the very smallest end, interesting new classes of devices are emerging that scavenge electricity directly from the environment.

Such networked smart objects perform important control and monitoring functions in industrial plants and buildings, the electric grid, and increasingly in our homes. Computational and communications resources in smart objects can be quite limited: just a few megahertz of CPU power paired with several hundred KB of RAM and EEPROM are typical. Most modern smart objects utilize radio frequencies to communicate, though optical and infrared communications are also extant, if less common because of the line-of-sight requirement.

But while connecting smart objects to networks is easy, doing so securely can be a challenge. This explosion of the "Internet of Things" - smart objects which already outnumber workstations by at least five to one -- creates new opportunities for hackers to disrupt services, steal sensitive information and commit fraud, just as they do on conventional computer networks. Only this time, the stakes are much higher.

While PCs remain the primary targets, hackers and malware-writers are increasingly setting their sights on non-PC devices attached to the network, which have become the more attractive, comparatively "soft" targets. But because of how and where these intelligent devices are deployed, security breaches on smart objects are even more likely to have serious real-world consequences.


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