Mikko Hypponen at Black Hat 2017.
Mikko Hypponen at Black Hat 2017.

Two decades from now, warring adversaries could conceivably attack each other by sabotaging a population's Internet-connected consumer devices en masse, respected cybersecurity expert Mikko Hypponen predicted at Black Hat on Thursday.

"One thing that I worry about is targeting consumer devices and making them fail physically, making them catch fire," said Hypponen, chief research officer at F-Secure. "You can imagine a conflict when one party of the conflict sets fire to every home in the country that's on the other side of the conflict."

Also by 2038, the military weaponry used by warring nations will most likely be operated via artificial intelligence, added Hypponen, who also made predictions about what the Internet of Things, cryptocurrency and other technologies will look like in two decades' time. Among his prognostications:

  • The price of putting a smart chip in an device will become so nominally cheap that essentially all vendors will add them to all of their appliances for the purpose of user data collection. In some cases, consumers may have no idea that a seemingly mundane item they purchased online or at the store is an IoT device. It also means more opportunities for attackers to exploit a product. "If something is described to you as 'smart,' what you should hear is that it's 'vulnerable,'" said Hypponen.
  • Artificial intelligence will truly be born when AI-based machines are able to self-program and improve themselves, resulting in exponential growth in their capabilities. At this point, human programmers may find themselves out of a job.
  • Cryptocurrencies will not completely render banks obsolete, but they will eliminate the need for financial institutions to move money, as blockchain technologies will instead handle that task securely.
  • The Unix 2038 bug -- a limitation in programming that will prevent Unix machines from properly encoding times after 03:14:07 UTC on January 19, 2038, will in many act as a redux of the Y2K problem of 1999, forcing coders to scramble to correct the issue. "Mark my words: even though 2038 is still way, way in the future, I will guarantee you: we will have problems," said Hypponen.