America’s National Security Agency (NSA) is looking at ways it can collect data from the ever-growing amount of internet-connected devices.

According to tech firm Cisco, there’ll be around 50 billion devices connected up to the internet by 2020, and they’ll be collecting 400 zegabytes of data a year.

Potential for intelligence

That’s a lot of information, and the NSA wants to benefit from it. Recently speaking at a military tech conference in Washington, NSA deputy director Richard Ledgett confirmed that the agency sees potential in using IoT to collect foreign intelligence.

That said, this won’t be on the cards for a few years. Tech website The Intercept reports he said: “We’re looking at it sort of theoretically from a research point of view right now.

Ledgett also sees IoT as a potential “security nightmare” and an “intelligence bonanza”, making monitoring difficult. As well as IoT more generally, biomedical devices are also of particular interest to the agency.

NSA interest in biomedical tech

Biomedical devices are on the rise, helping healthcare professionals and organisations capture vital patient data in real-time. Commenting on this area of tech, he said it may be “a niche kind of thing … a tool in the toolbox”. So while the devices would not be a major area for the NSA, they’re still on the radar.

However, if it were to start working with these devices, it wouldn’t be able to shy away from the fact that they can easily be targeted by hackers. Ledgett said this would be a major concern for the agency, especially as it doesn’t allow for cellphones.

“As my job is to penetrate other people’s networks, complexity is my friend,” he said. “The first time you update the software, you introduce vulnerabilities, or variables rather. It’s a good place to be in a penetration point of view,” he said.

Focus in other areas too

Whatever the case, despite current interest by the NSA, it still has to focus on areas of tech that are more likely to be used by “bad guys”. Those were the words of Ledgett at the conference.

He added that this is one of the reasons why the NSA didn’t help the FBI in the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone case. “We don’t do every phone, every variation of phone,” ledgett told the audience. “If we don’t have a bad guy who’s using it, we don’t do that.”