Internet of things

 

It’s not long till Christmas Day and you will be sitting with a glass of something to celebrate.  

The average person will spend £269 and most of that will be on technology.  This leads me to the Internet of Things (IoT).  Despite the fact that many people I talk to, both at conferences and privately, do not know the term, it is predicted that within the next few years we will have 30 IoT connected devices in our houses.

The famous scientist and inventor, Nikola Tesla, in 1926 predicted
the growth in connectivity in his interview with Collier
magazine
.  
 “When wireless is
perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in
fact it is, all things being particles of a real and rhythmic whole.  We shall be able to communicate with one
another instantly, irrespective of distance. 
… and the instruments through which we shall be able to do this will be
amazingly simple compared with our present telephone.  A man will be able to carry one in his vest
pocket”. 
He certainly got that
right, but I suspect the range of connected devices and the plethora of
information that they collect, would have surprised even him.    

So, what is the Internet of Things?

It is a term used to refer to the many devices (eg. phones, fitbits, smart fridges, smart speakers, smart heating systems, children’s toys) that are connected together and able to transfer data over a computer network.  They can recognise when you are nearly out of milk or eggs, they can calculate how many steps you have taken today and how many calories you have burned, they can control your home heating, they can tell you when you are fertile!  These can save us time and money, encourage us to keep fit, track our children’s whereabouts, cut waste, help reduce greenhouse emissions and even help us procreate.    (Gartner Says the Internet of Things Installed Base Will Grow to 26 Billion Units by 2020, n.d.).  The question is, are there any risks of these fantastic innovations?

Security

Unfortunately, yes.  Security is a major issue.  Many manufacturers of early devices did not build strong (if any) security into their products, and many consumers do not take even the basic step of changing the default passwords.  Even for those who do, they are often not provided with notifications of security updates in the way that our phones do.  Many devices require us to input details of our personal information and this is poorly protected from hackers.  Also, if there is a bug in one part of the connected system, all connected devices are likely to be corrupted.  This leaves IoT devices as the weak link in household networks.  Equally worrying is the vulnerability of unsecured Bluetooth technology embedded in many talking toys which can allow strangers to communicate with our children.

Privacy

Another major problem is privacy.   Although public awareness is growing of the
value of our data to commercial, political and other players, it is easy  to forget that connected devices in our homes
are collecting data on us all the time (that’s what makes them “smart”) and it
is not always obvious how the data will be used.  Think about the smart vacuum cleaner that
takes a floor plan of your house to enable it to clean automatically – who will
it be shared with?  What about smart
speakers? – Google recently admitted their staff listened to private recordings
from smart speakers.  What about
surveillance? – who might be interested in buying or hacking into data that
reveals the whereabouts and activities of particular users?   Do not be naive and think that nobody’s
watching what we are doing, buying and behaving.  All that data has value to someone and can be
analysed and used in microtargeted advertising if not more nefarious ways.    

So how do you protect yourself?

One of the most important things to do, if you haven’t already, is to  change the  password on your router and all your connected devices.  Most of us leave them on the default setting from when they were purchased.   Also, if there is an associated website, check the privacy policy to see what data is being collected and who it is being shared with. This includes children toys.  If these contain built-in cameras, turn it off and put the device out of sight at night. You will be amazed how hackers can switch on cameras remotely and the last thing you want is your child’s images being spread across the internet.

 6 ways to secure your IoT

  1. Start with your router and device
    passwords.  These are your front door so
    make sure you secure them. Change the
    password
    to a strong, hard to guess password.
  2. Do your homework before you buy.  Read reviews to see what the toy does and if
    anyone has identified any security vulnerabilities.
  3. Read the privacy policies to check what data
    will be collected, what it will be used for, how it will be secured and who it
    will be shared with.
  4. Check the app permissions associated with each
    new app and deny access to any unnecessary data.
  5. Regularly check for and implement updates.  You may need to check the manufacturer’s
    website from time to time to be aware of updates.
  6. Enable Two-Factor Authentication where
    available.

I love the internet and it makes my life so much easier in so many ways, but like everything in life there are risks and we need to take the time to understand how we can keep ourselves and our families safer. 

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