What is a Digital Twin?

You may have heard the phrase ‘digital twin' on your favorite tech podcast or publication. It's a buzzword in connected devices and the internet of things (IoT).

So what is a digital twin? Is it an interactive computer rendering of one's own personality? The next generation of imaginary friend? No, a digital twin is a virtual model of a process, product or service that acts as a bridge between the physical and digital world.

Does that still seem complicated? Yes, no, maybe? Let's just use a real-world example to help explain what a digital twin is and how we apply it in the real world.

The car that you drove to work today is powered by several computers. A very complex system of sensors measure things such as acceleration, performance and braking. They trigger timing belts that monitor your fuel and transmission to ensure that your car is performing how it is supposed to. Some folks opt-in to a car insurance model that measures these things as well as how often, how far and how responsibly you are driving. The idea is that a person could lower their premiums by driving safely.

The raw data originating from this example begins to build a profile of the car, or more accurately the driver. This data is used to calibrate safety information that feeds into an algorithm that determines this driver's insurance premiums. Is this driver accelerating too fast, braking too quickly? How hard are they banking on turns? Do they drive four hours every day, are they driving a lot at night? This data builds a digital twin of the physical processes happening in the real world.

Connected devices and associated accounts

While connected devices are often associated with the physical world, it's important to remember that they are also tied to accounts and the real people behind those accounts. Believe it or not, fraudsters can hack your car. They can remotely kill your engine or track you for nefarious purposes. But conversely, what if someone hacked an account associated with your car? If they could get into your insurance tracker, they could manipulate the data on your digital twin, in doing so they could either raise or lower your insurance premiums. This may seem like a fairly innocuous version of fraud but by dumping bad data into a digital twin, hackers can do far more nefarious actions that we will touch on later.

It's not always about money, safety is a major focus with accounts associated with connected devices. Many people have ‘smart doorbells.' They ping you when someone is at your door so you can see if it's a delivery man or a burglar. Along the same lines, many people use nanny cams to keep an eye on children or a pet. These physical objects can easily be hacked with an account takeover, and now devices you purchased to protect you, can actively be used against you. Your doorbell can be used to spy on you, track your behaviors and use that information to cause you harm.

It's not hard to expand this to think that if a smart doorbell can be hacked then so too could a drone or even a smart weapon. Not to be alarmist, but when dealing with digital twins it is extremely prudent to not only protect the physical asset but also the account that interfaces with it because these both eventually impact the user.

What TeleSign does is secure accounts using sophisticated verification and identity solutions that can protect any account, whether or not it is attached to a physical device. We all take steps to maintain good security hygiene when we think of our bank accounts, our social media and crypto wallets. What TeleSign would urge you to do, is protect your IoT accounts as well.

We add ‘digital twin' to phrases like ‘data science' and ‘machine learning' into the storied tradition of concepts that sound much more sinister than they truly are. In a world of self-driving cars and artificial intelligence we need to embrace innovation not run from it. Digital twins can save organizations money, time and effort. They're an asset for us all so long as they stay protected and safe.

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