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Hacked By The Internet Of Things

One of the fastest rising trends today is the Internet of Things (IOT). For those who don’t know, the Internet of Things refers to the vast network of connected devices that communicate with each other to relay information. That information is usually captured by sensors. As sensors and transmitters become cheaper, more and more everyday items are becoming part of the IOT.

The IOT has a lot of promise. The data it generates can provide insights into many aspects of our lives that haven’t had data in the past. The applications that run on top of the IOT will be varied and many will have a large analytic component. Just like the value of the Internet itself wasn’t really understood until it was in place, I suspect that we’ll all be surprised at how fast the IOT becomes a part of our lives and how much we value it. However, there is an underbelly to the IOT that has the potential to severely disrupt how much of its potential is realized.

The way most devices that are part of the IOT communicate is by connecting to the Internet. Within most homes today, there are a handful of computers, tablets, and smart phones that have been registered on the network and allowed access to the Internet. In a few years, there could be dozens or hundreds of items per household connected. For hackers, this presents an unprecedented opportunity.

In one recent story, connected refrigerators were used to send spam. It was possibly the first validated case of the IOT being hijacked for spam purposes. Baby monitors can be taken over so that a hacker can not only watch and listen to you, but talk to you. Already, you can be unknowingly watched and listened to through your Smart TV. Your car? It is vulnerable to hackers these days. There is even a search enginethat focuses on finding connected devices and allows you to search what it has found.

Clearly, we have a real problem that needs to be addressed. A refrigerator sending spam is a nuisance but doesn’t do any real harm. A child predator spying on your children as they play in your home is a much bigger and more dangerous issue. Having a hacker take over your car and cause it to crash can be downright deadly. Given serious concerns about examples like this, everyone involved in the IOT is certainly ensuring that we are safe from such intrusions, right? Wrong!

There is one huge issue that has no easy solution. Think about the money and time you spend to place sophisticated virus software on your computers. You also likely update your operating system with the latest patches and updates to keep it safe. Even with this diligence, hackers still regularly take over computers. Chances are that you are much less diligent about your phones and tablets (even though you shouldn’t be). Now consider a much less sophisticated sensor that you’ve connected to your home network. That device may never receive operating system updates, let alone have the ability to check for viruses or intrusions. Just as a heavily outdated PC system is a huge risk, imagine all of the years-out-of-date sensors that you’ll have in your home over time. If these devices are already a security risk today, as the prior examples illustrate, how much greater will the risk be in a few years when they are totally outdated?

The point of this post is not to pointlessly scare you or to suggest that the Internet of Things is bad. It is meant to make you aware of the risks you take as you connect more and more devices to the Internet. Organizations are working as hard as ever to patch security flaws once they are found, but the hackers are always a step ahead. There are a few actions you can take to avoid being a victim. These include:

  • Read privacy policies very carefully when a product contains sensors. Many connected devices may be collecting and transmitting far more data about you than you realize. See this story on how Smart TVs can scan your entire home network and pass personal information from your computer’s files back to the manufacturer.

  • Disconnect any sensor that you don’t absolutely need connected to your network. If a sensor isn’t connected, it can’t be hacked.

  • If you don’t plan to use the microphone or camera on your TV, PC, or video game system, disable them. Some people have even suggested putting tape over the camera to be extra secure.

  • If you detect a breach, take immediate action to identify and disconnect any compromised devices. Then, check to make sure the problem hasn’t spread.

  • Keep up on news about the Internet of Things and what the latest best practices are to keep your network and your connected things secure.

A major change that technology has enabled is to let criminals and hackers attack you from anywhere. It used to be that somebody had to physically show up at your property to do damage or steal documents. Now they can sit safely on the other side of the world while they spy on you or steal your identity. Most people make sure their doors are locked securely before going to bed. Many also turn on a security system. As we enter the age of the Internet of Things, the same diligence will be required with your home network and your connected devices. Closing your front door doesn’t do much good if you’ve left a digital door wide open for anyone to walk through.