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Analysis / Security

Black Mirror Shows The It-Could-Happen-Here Scenarios That Tech Businesses Fear

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From hackers in cop shows to The Lawnmower Man, movies and TV perform a huge disservice to technology, IT and business overall, I’d argue – but at least they have the good grace to make it look like overacted tosh. With Black Mirror, on the other hand, who knows when that particular hyper-reality will bite?

With the millennium bug, technology and the world stood on the verge of a digital precipice. Thankfully, through endless hours of expert coding, checking and analysis, the IT world got away relatively unscathed. With the Code Red worm, Microsoft saw hundreds of thousands of its IIS Web Server installations infected on a daily basis, yet the resilient Internet soldiered on and we got through it.

Through The Black Mirror

More recently, even though shipping giant Maersk lost most of its IT systems to ransomware, requiring a massive reinstallation job, the company survived and has beefed up its security. But, and this is a big but, what happens if the next big IT recovery job fails, or one of the endless streams of DDoS or malware attacks overwhelms a business more essential to your line of industry?

That’s Black Mirror’s job, the Channel 4/Netflix show, regaling us with tales from the flip side of IT, social media, pop culture and other realms. There are already plenty of articles highlighting the real world comparisons that Black Mirror generates. But for any tech company, there must be that nagging feeling that their hit product could have some killer flaw, a back door or unintended use case that turns the whole thing into a top-of-the-hour news event, a media firestorm and the ire of everyone’s social media.

Business Versus The Black Mirror

While the show focuses on the people at the sharp end, what about the businesses that made product X? The trouble is, with the constant need to push on, to disrupt and innovate, to be seen in whatever marketplace your business is in, it means that a Black Mirror moment will happen, to some company, soon.

It could be that oversight in coding a new AI, or letting an overly-addictive social media app share a little too much. Perhaps letting the friendly house robot watch too many Terminator movies, or the failure to put a checkbox or confirmation slider in the right place, or good old user inexperience, perhaps someone in a hurry that triggers product armageddon.

Whatever the event, it will happen, hopefully not to your business. And you might not be as lucky as the businesses that can afford to pay a digital ransom or legal the press into submission when things do go wrong.

So, there’s no reason to turn your back on the current generation of AI tools like chatbots and virtual assistants. IBM’s Watson hasn’t become a global overlord, yet, and as far as we know, none of the companies using its cloud services for AI experiments are doing so for taking-over-the-world purposes.

Then there’s the growing number of business process tools like WorkFusion, which offer intelligent automation, bringing a little order to the chaos of your manual systems. These products and many like them have already helped endless companies make some sense of the digital chaos around them.

As for falling victims to hacks, something the show the common wisdom is that “there are two types of business, the ones that have been hacked, and those that will be.” Every business should be busy actively defending itself, either internally or seeking advice. The Black Mirror episode “Shut Up and Dance” focused on individuals being hacked, but it will be interesting seeing where Charlie Brooker and the other show writers take the concept of corporate hacking in a future series.

In summary, technology benefits millions of businesses and billions of people, but always check the products you use or create are fit for purpose, secure and have enough checks and balances to prevent your company being the one that fails live on the Internet.

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Chris writes about augmented and virtual reality, chatbots, games and anywhere the miracle of technology will take us next.