IoT a ‘game-changer’ for securing US borders under Donald Trump

7 Dec 2016

The border between the US and Mexico. Image: Sherry V Smith/Shutterstock

With Donald Trump waiting in the wings as US president-elect, Dr Bob Griffin of the US Department of Homeland Security believes IoT will be a game-changer for securing the country’s borders.

During the 2016 US presidential campaign, the president-elect promised that his administration would build an enormous wall along the Mexican border, and that Mexico would pay for it.

Soon afterwards, critics of this plan said that such a cost – regardless of who was sent the bill – would be so monumental that no country could afford it.

Inspirefest 2017

Civil defence with IoT technology

Perhaps there is another way, using millions of sensors along the 3,000km-plus US southern border as part of the internet of things (IoT).

While likely to be seen as a potential ‘Big Brother’ policy in the making, Dr Bob Griffin from the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sees it as a “game-changer” for securing the US border, and also for within its borders.

As the DHS’s deputy undersecretary for science and technology, Griffin was speaking at IoT World Europe in Dublin last November, heralding where the internet of things is taking civil defence.

Imagine, for example, the government administration of New York being able to predict the spread of a flu epidemic by analysing data that shows vitamin C tablet sales and pharmacy visits have experienced a sharp increase in one area.

This isn’t an easy process by any means, Griffin explained. Typically, making sense of IoT data is like trying to drink water from a firehouse. The sheer volume can make the process near impossible.

Equally as important as making use of this data is ensuring it remains protected from any potential online hazards, particularly after major incidents like the Mirai botnet attack and allegations that electoral errors occurred in key swing states in the recent US election.

These vulnerabilities were recently highlighted in a DHS report on IoT, which stressed that the consequences of an insecure network are “too high given the potential for harm to our critical infrastructure, our personal privacy, and our economy”.

Faith in the system

“Part of the challenge and opportunity of IoT is that we have the ability to link systems in ways that we haven’t in the past,” Griffin said in conversation with

“By its very nature, though, it’s going to make vulnerabilities that we’ll have to deal with as, otherwise ,people will start to lose faith in key systems – whether it’s election systems, financial systems or, certainly, electric and water grids – … that people are taking for granted.”

With regard to where the DHS stands on privacy, however, Griffin is a firm believer that it is not just up to the government to ensure its citizens’ privacy is secured from a wider IoT network, but also the private companies rolling out the technology.

“If you’re going to enjoy a lot of the benefits of having a wired home, that’s going to come with a certain understanding that part of your information is going to become publicly available,” he said.

“There’s going to need to be very broad discussions, not just about a government’s use of data but private industry’s use of data.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic