Sir Tim Berners-Lee: Hackers Could Exploit Open Data To Wreak Real-World Chaos

ODI founders want the government to consider open data as critical infrastructure that needs protection

Creator of the World Wide Web Sir Tim Berners-Lee has warned that hackers could exploit open data to wreak chaos on in the physical world.

The Guardian reports that Berners-Lee, while an advocate of open data and the co-founder of the Open Data Institute (ODI), said there was a need for the government to find ways to protect open data sets effectively to prevent them from being tampered with by malicious actors.

“If you disrupted traffic data for example, to tell everybody that all the roads south of the river are closed, so everybody would go north of the river, that would gridlock you [and] disable the city,” he is quoted as saying.

Open data danger

tim berners lee © drserg / Shutterstock.comBerners-Lee along with ODI co-founder Nigel Shadbolt have both championed the use of open data to improve how public services work and enable the use of freely available data sets as a means to for developers and companies to create services upon that can be very useful to the public.

But the pair warned the flipside to this data being publicly available is that if it is hacked it can be manipulated to cause all manner of problems or be exploited to by cyber criminals to make money.

“If you falsify government data then there are all kinds of ways that you could get financial gain, so yes,” Berners-Lee told the newspaper, “It’s important that even though people think about open data as not a big security problem, it is from the point of view of being accurate.”

Shadbolt highlighted that open data provides information that is rich enough to be considered part of the UK’s modern infrastructure and as such the government must consider its protection as vital and be as diligent with protecting it as it is with private data.

“Public national data is part of the government’s responsibility like clean air is, like clean water is … it’s another reason why they have to think of data as infrastructure,” he said.

Given Chancellor Philip Hammond has further enshrined the £1.9 billion the government will invest in cyber security, there is potential for it to address such open data security concerns before they become a dangerous reality. This is something that could be achieved at the defence focused National Cyber Security Centre recently launched by the government.

Quiz: What do you know about cybersecurity in 2016?