Connected devices are changing the way we live. With a simple voice command, we can start music or get answers to questions. Our smart refrigerators keep track of our food. Our connected cars turn our vehicles into Wi-Fi hotspots. But as is often the case, there’s a catch. Our connected devices may be connecting us to hackers.
The Rise of the Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the network created by various items that are connected to the internet. Gartner predicts that the number of IoT devices will exceed 20 million by 2020, and most of these will be for consumer use.
Many different devices can become part of the Internet of Things, from cars to toaster ovens. Here are some of the more common connected devices:
- Smart speakers include the Amazon Echo and Google Home. NPR and Edison Research estimate that 4 percent of Americans got their first smart speaker during the 2017 holiday season, and 65 percent of smart speaker users wouldn’t want to go back to life without one.
- Connected cars can include collision warning systems that make our commutes safe, as well as other features geared toward convenience.
- Smart refrigerators are connected to the internet to help users manage groceries and more.
- Smart televisions are connected to the internet, enabling streaming and more.
The Safety Risks
While connected devices are convenient and offer many safety features, they also come with risks.
Because smart devices are connected to the internet, like computers, they may be susceptible to viruses. BBC reports that security firm Proofpoint uncovered an attack that involved a smart refrigerator, smart televisions and other devices. The infected devices were used to send out spam emails.
Another concern is that smart devices may be used to spy on their owners. Webcams can be hacked to record the user, but so can other devices. Computerworld reports that even baby monitors have been used to spy on people. This is a clear and unsettling invasion of privacy. It’s also a major security issue, as hackers could gather private information or even use what they see to plan break-ins.
Even more frightening, hackers may be able to take direct control of smart devices. A Wired article details how two hackers were able to control a Jeep while another person was driving it. The hackers remotely controlled the radio and windshield wipers and even cut the transmission. This was done as a friendly and educational experiment, but other hackers may have more malicious intents. Smart home devices can be vulnerable to similar attacks.
Important Safety Tips
These safety issues don’t mean you should avoid smart devices completely – you just need to take some basic safety precautions.
- Manage your passwords. Never use default password settings. Use strong passwords.
- Keep your home Wi-Fi network secure. PC Magazine lists 12 steps to take, which include setting up firewalls, activating encryption and changing usernames and passwords.
- Update devices with security patches. When vulnerabilities are detected, manufactures issue safety patches to deal with the threat. Make sure you install them.
- Research your connected devices. Before purchasing a smart device, research the safety risks and the best ways to reduce them.