If I had asked you to connect to the ‘internet’ a few years ago, you would have opened a browser window on your computer or handheld device. Today we can connect to the internet using any number of devices from wearables (e.g. FitBits) to thermostats to kitchen refrigerators. Collectively all these devices and connections are known as the Internet of Things, or IoT. By 2020, it is predicted that we will have 50 billion IoT devices – which includes 90% of new cars.
How many connected items do you have in your home? Typical homes have phones, computers, tablets and likely TVs. Additionally there are gaming systems, health monitors, kitchen appliances, door locks, security systems, lighting, temperature controls and smoke detectors. The upside is the ability to control all of these items remotely or automatically. The downside is that all the usage information is being recorded and stored for analysis. The fact that your coffee maker turns on at 6:35 am or that you have a high score on a video game may not be deemed ‘private’ but what about your photos, your health information or where you drive to every day?
Though most of the devices are quite safe and use your personal data to improve your experience, there are some vulnerabilities for which you should be aware. Here are 3 areas of IoT that you need to know about:
Kids on Devices
In November 2015, VTech, a popular toy company was hacked, revealing the accounts of nearly 5 million parents, information on their kids and the kids’ photos stored in their cloud. Also in 2015, Hello Barbie was a released, a talking Barbie doll that includes a microphone that records kids questions and then processes the answers on a server in the cloud. In both cases, a child’s private information is being sent to a foreign computer. Just because a toy or game is targeted at children does not mean that information is any more protected than any other system.
Tip: If your children are using anything that connects to your WiFi then make sure the information being sent back and forth is not private. Include as little personal data (birthdays, names) as possible.
Health Monitors and Wearables
Wearables that monitor the number of steps you take or your heart rate have become incredibly popular. These devices provide motivation through data, but be aware that the companies that control these devices also maintain your data. What happens in 10 years when you apply for health insurance and it is revealed, via your wearable data, that you did not exercise much in 2018 or didn’t get enough sleep. Could you be denied insurance? Maybe. This said, some wearables are helping to map out symptoms of illness and find faster ways to recover.
Tip: Check the Terms and Conditions on your wearables to see what the holding company can do with your data. In the wrong hands, it could lead to an intimate portrait of your health that you may not want to share.
When you have a smart house and a smart car, it can do everything for you; Start your breakfast, plan your day’s driving route, turn down the temperature of your house while you are out or video your pets. All this automation makes you predictable and outlines the minutia of your day. My grocery store knows what days I shop and Netflix knows when I watch TV. What would happen if someone had all the data on your daily activities? Could you tell when you are away? On the positive, you can also use the same systems to make people think you are home when you are not.
Tip: Keep visible automated home systems, like lighting, the same each day. Most modern systems lights go on with the onset of dusk, not by hour. Limit all day location based tracking systems when possible, only turning them on when needed.