Inside Out: The Shrinking Air Gap

Inside Out

By Adam Cecchetti

The rain is pouring over the top of a bus stop. To pass the time, Sam pulls out his phone and taps on an app. Milliseconds later, kittens appear; their cuteness enticing his gaze to be locked eternal. Sam stands staring at his phone wondering what the kittens will do next with that yarn as a very confused puppy barks. Behind Sam several other people have also left reality looking for self-actualization using their thumbs to navigate a higher digital plane.

While he’s distracted, Sam’s phone has been connected to the Internet. The phone’s diligence to keep Sam amused has taken an orchestration of coordinated events since he left his apartment. The phone obediently automatically switched from his home Wi-Fi to the LTE network and has been talking with his Bluetooth headphones the entire time. On his walk from home to the bus stop his phone was busy talking to dozens of other wireless devices, looking for new networks, and most importantly keeping the kittens queued up.

The bus arrives and Sam’s gaze is momentarily broken. Thirty minutes pass, riders coming and going each with a new device reaching out in attempts to connect with each other. In unabashed irony the electric bus is whisper silent but an invisible shouting storm of electronic packets is happening to keep the kittens flowing. Every phone busy switching from one cell tower to the next, looking for Wi-Fi networks -- and each other -- in endless efforts to stay connected so the bus might stay tomb-quiet.

After all this work, Sam’s phone is exhausted. Sam sits down and he plugs his phone into his work laptop to charge and sync. The phone’s battery refills and is greedy to exchange information with the laptop sitting on his desk.

A large yawn escapes his mouth as he picks up his laptop and phone and walks out the office door.

The coffee shop is quieter than usual; as soon as Sam walks in the door, both his laptop and cell phone connect to the Wi-Fi. Sam sits down drink in hand and begins to work through his email. More awake from the walk and caffeine, Sam’s gaze wanders outside as the rain pauses. This attention is ripped back from another land as a meeting alert pops up. Sam walks out of the coffee shop to meet with a customer, laptop in hand.

Sam’s laptop connects to the customer’s guest Wi-Fi network and the TV in the conference room which in turn connects to the customer’s internal Wi-Fi.

Sam dismisses the alert on his phone to connect to the open Wi-Fi at the grocer next door. Desperate to get off the LTE network, it connects to the global free internet provider “Linksys”. The apps on Sam’s phone get busy with automatic updates and data for its applications.

For next 30 minutes, Sam gives his pitch to stone-faced executives. One that hasn’t moved a muscle for 28 minutes asks for a copy of the presentation. Sam hands him a USB stick, it is the 3rd demo this USB stick has been used for, and the 8th computer it’s been plugged into.

The clock strikes 2 p.m., and Sam summons a car to take him to the next customer. On the ride over Sam’s laptop locks, demanding he pay $300 in Bitcoin before he can continue. The LTE network helps reroute Sam, and his temporary chauffeur, driver, back to the office.   

The tech blinks twice while looking at Sam’s monitor: “What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything.” Sam responds.

“Didn’t download anything?”

Sam “Nope, just been hopping around town all day.”

A neutral smirk crosses the tech’s pursed lips “Hmm.”

Sam inspects the sticker garden on the loaner laptop he’s given. The previous owner had terrible taste in music. 30 minutes later, the old MacBook attempts to find all the devices connected to Sam’s home network. The Xbox, lightbulbs, and blender are all too happy to try and chat with their new friend.  

Back at the office, IT Security stares at the laptop. Worried others might have done the same thing, they check the Firewall, HIPS, IDS, and Endpoint logs.  They notice nothing. On the great firewall, all is quiet. Their confused silence is interrupted by an alert notification on their phone: their new smart Microwave has been delivered.

As our digital lives continue to improve, connectivity will continue to grow. In unison the air gap between our personal life and the Internet continues to shrink. Classical defense methods need to adapt to the new understanding which is that there never was an “Inside the firewall”.