Looking Ahead: Technology and Threats

By Matthew Harwood

Marc Goodman is a global thinker, writer, and consultant focused on technology’s impact on security, business, and international affairs. Over the past 20 years, he has worked with organizations such as Interpol, the United Nations Counterterrorism Task Force, NATO, the U.S. Government, and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) on cybercrime and cyberterrorism matters. He frequently consults with global policy makers, security executives, and industry leaders on technology-related security threats—including cyber executive protection—and has operated in more than 50 countries around the world. He serves as the faculty advisor for security at Silicon Valley’s Singularity University. He also founded the Future Crimes Institute, which focuses on the security implications of disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, the social data revolution, synthetic biology, virtual worlds, robotics, ubiquitous computing, and location-based services.

You are a self-described “futurist” devoting yourself to next generation crime. What does that mean?

As a young street police officer, I began to see the impact of technology on crime and criminality. To that end, I eventually founded the LAPD’s Internet unit in the late 1990s. There I learned clearly that technology could be used for good or ill. Now technology is part of the standard toolkit for both criminals and terrorists around the world.

What first made you come to realize how strong the impact of modern technology would be on crime?

Gang members. I was working in South Central Los Angeles when I saw all these 14- and 15-year-old gang members, circa 1990, and they were carrying beepers. Around that time, the only people who had beepers were physicians. It eventually became clear that the gang members were using pagers to send coded signals to each other for narcotic trans-
actions, among other things.

As the technology got more sophisticated, criminals remained early adopters. They readily migrated from pagers to mobile phones and to the Internet and have always been ahead of the good guys with much more limited budgets.

What are some examples of “future crimes” that have already occurred that many people don’t know about yet?

The examples are numerous, with each new technology introduced being exploited by criminals. One area I have been studying is robotic crime. When I talk about robotic crime, people say “Robots will never commit crime.” But narcotraffickers for some time have been using robotic delivery systems to bring drugs up from Latin America in unmanned submersibles. Now they are using unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to deliver drugs over the border.

In the future, you’re worried about people hacking implantable medical devices and wreaking havoc inside the human body. That’s conceivable?

Entirely. Today there are approximately 60,000 implantable medical devices in the United States—cardiac pacemakers, cochlear implants, diabetic pumps—that connect to the Internet in one way or another. If a pacemaker’s defibrillator, capable of delivering an electric shock, is connected to the Internet, it means the Internet is connected to the pacemaker. It’s only a matter of time before a hacker exploits a vulnerability. A recent study showed that it was in fact possible to attack Medtronic pacemakers under lab conditions.

As technology becomes increasingly integrated with biology, there will be significant consequences that security and law enforcement officials have not even begun to contemplate. For example, as some of the sixty thousand people who already have an Internet-enabled implantable medical device die, who will do the autopsy? Physicians are trained in conducting autopsies, not computer forensics. The integration of biology with technology means we’ll need additional skills among these professionals. Otherwise, how will the coroner or homicide investigator know whether the victim died of an accidental death because the pacemaker failed?

In the future, what aspects of technocrime do you think will become more frequent?

Location-based crime is something that is beginning to take off, whether it’s exploiting other people’s location to stalk them, to rob them, or to burglarize them. It’s going on now. There are some Web sites—such as,, and now the application Creepy—which cull public information on someone and plots it on a map.

Another location crime that has been going on for years is called SWATing. There are programs for smart phones that allow any phone number to be presented on the phone’s outbound caller ID. So people were calling 911 and spoofing someone else’s phone number and screaming “Help, help, he’s got me. He’s got a gun.” 911 sees the number, dispatches the SWAT team to the address associated with the phone number. The SWAT team goes kicking down the door on an innocent person thinking that they’re dealing with a hostage situation because that’s where the caller ID said they were. The ability to virtually project a location not one’s own to the police is no joke and creates a highly volatile situation wherein armed police may barge in on an innocent family.

The future of crime, then, is the ability of a perpetrator to spoof who did the crime?

That’s exactly right. The future of crime is the ability to spoof anything. Not just caller ID.

You can also plant digital evidence putting people at the scene of a crime. Thus, it will be possible to set someone up to appear, based upon hacked locational data on their mobile phone, to have been at the scene of a crime, such as a murder, when in fact they were never there.



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