By Vijay Kumar
You can think about this as an embodied internet operated by many different players in a decentralised way. You’re inside of rather than just looking at. We believe that it is going to be the successor to the mobile internet — Mark Zuckerberg, 2021
The rapid speed and scale of digitisation has suddenly landed us in a universe, verses of which are being ubiquitously heard. Don’t you overhear corporations pumping up war chests, to garner first movers’ advantage in a bid to compete in Metaverse? Didn’t you hear $10 billion venture funding to Metaverse-related companies in 2021? Didn’t you notice the pervasive cacophonies about the NFT (non-fungible token) launches these days? While NFT is not anew, NFT on Metaverse has rapidly gained prominence.
Didn’t you lately hear leaders versing verses about this trillion-dollar opportunity that ‘heavenly’ positions brand? Don’t you also see how such cacophonies are causing excruciating suffering to people like you and me? This Metaverse FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is unarguably the virulent dominant strain — mightier than the deadly corona!
Spiralling Cyber Onslaught
The onset of Covid has been synonymous with the onset of advanced cyberattacks. Every 39 seconds, someone gets victimised. Many prominent entities have been hit: World Health Organization, Big Basket, Alibaba, LinkedIn, Facebook and Marriott. NASA alone was targeted in more than 1,700 cyber incidents in 2020. And the worst: many don’t even understand for months if any such incident ever happened but by then the damage is done.
The onset of Covid has also been synonymous with ongoing digitisation and an unprecedented shift towards a contactless world. The last two years have given prominence to Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams among others, most of which were obscure earlier. Today, everything gets done virtually — something unfathomable earlier. With rapid digitisation, security issues have skyrocketed. Breaches for bitcoins are now passé; state-sponsored attacks and advanced persistent threats are the new-age realities. Hackers have identified newer ways to penetrate/pilfer while security issues like log4j have been disrupting the digitised ecosystem. No kidding, applications are releasing one security patch after another.
Twenty years ago, did you ever imagine that the yesteryear giants like Barnes & Nobles, Blockbuster and taxi companies like Meru would be relegated to history? Could you then visualise how the internet would be the real game-changer and how hospitality, travel, grocery, real estate among others would get disrupted while new age behemoths like Amazon, Netflix, Facebook and Uber would emerge?
For companies and investors, Metaverse brings avenues to flourish. For professionals, this brings opportunities to get skilled and shine. For startups, this brings prospects to chase. For the pandemic-hit world that has been jolted by the raging war and the spiralling inflation, Metaverse brings a ray of hope for the battered economy.
Nations Want To Know!
But the question is: is Metaverse really that big opportunity? Would Metaverse be sustainable and scalable to propel the long-term growth that pundits are talking about? Or is it yet another bubble like the dotcom that will burst eventually? Are we again going to witness the exponential jump in hirings and the subsequent massive firings?
The bigger question is: is Metaverse ahead of time? How would this virtual verse span out once Covid dissipates and remote working becomes history? Is Metaverse based on the assumptions that Covid and remote working are foregone conclusions? Is it secure enough for widespread adoption? Most importantly, are big daddies talking about Metaverse because they are heavily invested in it?
Currently in an early stage, Metaverse will allow people to replicate or enhance their physical activities by transporting, transforming, or extending their physical activities onto a virtual world. As per Gartner, by 2026, 25% of people will spend at least an hour daily in Metaverse for work, shopping, education, social media and/or entertainment. In Metaverse, each entity (business, school, hospital, movie, actor, brand or person) would have its/her/his unique digital representation/avatar. These avatars would do everything we do in the real world.
Sounds ahead of time? Yes, Metaverse is primarily targeted towards Generation Alpha — kids born between 2010 and 2025. These kids are also referred to as the Glass Generation as their glass-fronted devices would be their main medium of communication. Such kids would eat, drink, study, play, rant in the vicinity of a device and would even sleep immediately if they’re promised a screen time later.
To many, Metaverse might appear like illusionary science fiction. While the older generation might disdain it, to the younger ones, it might be the latest fad. Good or bad, Metaverse is here and there is no escaping, whatsoever.
Metaverse is an independent virtual economy powered by digital currencies and NFTs. At an architecture level, these seven components comprise a Metaverse: Gateways (centralised/decentralised), Avatar/Identity, UI/Immersion/AR/VR), Economy (crypto, wallet, marketplace and NFT/blockchain), Social, Gaming (points earned/collected), and Infra (cloud, scalability, visualization, digital twin, AI, decentralised infra, AdTech and connectivity). A Metaverse requires multiple technologies and trends to seamlessly execute in tandem.
Come Metaverse and you would extend your physical pursuits onto it. Just imagine, how you would immaculately dress up your digital avatar, put on your VR headsets and converse with your potential recruiters for potential opportunities on a hyper immersive, hyper personalised and hyper engaging Linkedin Metaverse. Just imagine, how on the other end, the headhunter would have his/her avatar readied, and you both would get teleported to some Metaverse Starbucks in an illusionary Hawaii to explore fitment and synergies.
Come Metaverse and how your casually decked up avatar would talk to avatars of your friends and families. Come Metaverse and you would prefer to socialise with your partner in this illusionary verse more than you would in the physical world. How unromantic could that be?
It is said that such virtual interactions would be as normal as a WhatsApp messaging today and would be much more frequent than the exchanges in real life. Given the FOMO and the peer pressure, this could be our children’s social realm. How unbelievable yet plausible?
What’s There in a Name – Facebook or Meta
Data is the new oil. Facebook makes money from its subscriber base, digital marketing, implicit marketplace and from your data 24*7*365 (supposedly with your explicit consent).
Every rise has a fall. Over time, regulators haven’t been happy with Facebook’s and WhatsApp’s data compliance. Zuckerberg and the team were confronted with the law and were pooh-poohed by the regulators. For Facebook, the last few quarters have also been hard. Because Facebook is losing its long-time hegemony with competition (Twitter, Instagram) flaring up on social media and it is not resonating with the young blood. Facebook’s results have taken undue beatings with its share down by $192 ($188 from $380) in last 7.5 months. Given that Facebook doesn’t seem to have significant exposure in Metaverse other than its 2014 acquisition of VR (virtual reality) headset company Oculus, is Meta Facebook’s strategic ploy to increase its rapidly dwindling subscriber base?
The genesis of Metaverse seems to be driven more by the sunk cost. Companies have invested in acquisitions and in developing VR hardware. Work on VR has happened since 1985. Microsoft VR HoloLens has been secretly under development since 2010. Since 2014, billions have been spent on VR companies Magic Leap, Google’s acquisition, and NReal that haven’t done well and in creating VR devices, ubiquitous in malls today, by Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Oculus, Samsung, Sony, HTC and Homido.
Lately, hardware vendors haven’t done well. With the advent of cloud, server companies like IBM and HP have split. While AR has real use cases, VR drags adoption as devices are cost-prohibitive to produce given bulk procurement by startups that cater to AR/VR application development. So it has not seen an uptick.
Metaverse proponents must fathom why there should be uncomfortable and obtrusive headgears. Companies that innovate lighter and comfortable headgears will have a better chance —something analogous to eye lenses and Lasik surgery that replaced the need for wearing intrusive spectacles. Apple’s AR Glass, an innovative smart sleek spectacle that gets integrated with Apple devices, would address the VR pain point.
Metaverse is an extension of our physical selves and avatar would be our augmentation in the digital realm. A robust security, privacy and compliance would propel a quintessential metaverse economy.
Metaverse is primarily multiple emerging technologies synchronously at play. Most technologies have inherent dependencies, inter-dependencies, weaknesses, and design/ implementation flaws. Metaverse economy, being new, would be bugs prone; bad actors would exploit them to penetrate/pilfer, infest viruses and malwares, bringing associated integrated infrastructure to ransom. Also, while one technology might be secure, weakness in the other weakens the ecosystem.
For instance: a security flaw in the technology stack: Blockchain, IoT, 5G, ML, 3D, social, mobility, smart Contract, payment system, crypto, NFT, wallet, infra, cloud, VR devices, Immersion/AR, computer vision or an unauthorised privileged access across API, user interfaces, data bases would be enough to cause havoc. The ability to analyse, isolate and test such scenarios might not be so straightforward.
Given the buzz, Metaverse would be the next pry, spy, and hack target. Security issues likely to derail Metaverse include brute-force, denial of service, email incidents, impersonation, improper usage, loss/theft or compromise of VR/AR devices, web- attacks, exploits on known common vulnerabilities and exposures, Log4shell (arbitrary code execution in Log4j), patching issues, takeover of endpoints/avatars, unauthorised personally identifiable information (PII) disclosure/storage/transfer, deep fakes, social engineering attacks, credential theft, and incidents involving removable media/devices.
Securing Your Metaverse
Metaverse needs to be designed and orchestrated adhering to the core trust pillars of confidentiality, availability, integrity, privacy, and security. By following principles of least privilege, separation of duties, defence in depth, robust interfaces (API/UI), the Metaverse economy needs to scale both horizontally and vertically without many gaps.
With complex disparate components, technologies, and topologies, Metaverse economy needs thought through integration and smart manoeuverings. Trust in the ecosystem must be enabled through digital identities of avatars and endpoints and advanced grade encryption for data at rest, in transit and in motion.
Once implemented, it is mandatory that the Metaverse ecosystem are periodically assessed for potential threats, vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, potential weaknesses, disaster recovery, business continuity besides reviewing incident responses, risks, accesses, patching, and logging/monitoring issues. Lastly, compliances need to be watertight with adequate cyber insurance.
Metaverse will succeed in a decentralised world. While decentralisation is easy to utter, it’s a nightmare to accomplish. In any highly profitable ecosystem, more so in a decentralised one, there would always be another set of regulatory surveillance. No wonder, regulators and governments have been uncomfortable with decentralisation. Many blockchain and cryptocurrency companies globally still don’t have a free hand while India, the US, China among others are coming up with their respective government-backed digital currencies as a better alternative to unreliable/volatile cryptocurrencies. Would such government moves decimate the contemporary crypto story one day?
Most importantly, in some sense, Metaverse is analogous to a super-enhanced version of contemporary social media. As with social media, working in Metaverse would require high self-regulation and discipline.