The man who stops burglaries before they happen

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A PREMONITION tells me I will enjoy meeting a professor of future crimes at University College London. And I do: his work is fascinating. As well as forecasting how new technologies can be exploited by criminals, Shane Johnson studies which policing strategies really work. He is helping to run one of the most sophisticated predictive policing experiments yet, being trialled on the streets in West Yorkshire, UK.

What does a professor of future crimes do?

When new technologies are introduced, criminals quickly see ways to exploit them. The reason is that companies don’t often think about the crime implications when they launch new products. For instance, back in the 1980s, vehicle crime was soaring because there were some models of car where one key would open one in five vehicles.

Today, it is the internet of things. Around 2016, we started to see malware scouring the internet for devices where the usernames and passwords were easily guessable, and then using those devices to overload websites and make them unavailable. Our aim is to look at some of the things that are happening over the next five to 10 years – from drones to counterfeiting technology – and imagine what the implications are, with a view to try to mitigate them.

What are your major concerns in the near future?

The number of internet-connected devices in our homes is growing. Many of these devices have access to our data, can stream images to or from our homes and may even control physical security measures, such as door and window locks. We know that many of these devices are insecure, and this needs addressing. Advances in machine learning – currently used in satellite navigation systems, voice-activated devices and so on – continue to revolutionise our lives, but offer opportunities for misuse. At the same time, it is important not to be too alarmist – these technologies can be used to help reduce or detect crime, too.

 

Read the rest of this interview over at New Scientist here.