Just how secure is the IoT?

Right now there’s a network of devices that are building a profile of you; the foods you eat, your weight and fitness levels, your location and where you shop. This is the Internet of Things, or IoT for short. It’s an aptly broad term for a Network that uses a broad range of devices, or ‘things’: smartphones, cameras, medical devices, smart home hubs, vehicles… the list of things gathering our data is seemingly endless.

The IoT is already using this data to improve our lives, making us healthier and more efficient with the help of apps and devices like S Health and Fitbit. It’s making life safer too. For example, IoT enabled cars can precisely warn of problems under the hood and feed that information back to its manufacturer, alerting them of any flaws in their manufacturing process.

It’s not all about health and safety though. People are connecting their entire homes with the help of devices like Matrix: a hub for all of your smart home and business apps. It can be used to authorise entry to a building, detect when you’re almost home, and prepare for your arrival by playing your favourite music and warming up the house – amongst other things.

With the rise of cheap computer hardware such as Raspberry Pi and the Arduino anything can become a smart IoT enabled device. Sometime soon entire cities are going to be IoT enabled. But are manufacturers and governments able to protect the massive amount of data we are generating from prying eyes?

Why we should be concerned

Manufacturers are eager to add smart features to their products but this is often done without consideration of security implications. A 2014 Hewlett Packard study revealed that 70% of IoT devices were open to attack. Anything that can be hacked will eventually be hacked without a good security structure in place, but it’s not just hackers who want in on our data. Big corporations like health care and energy providers could start targeting our data if we don’t gain control over our privacy.

Hacking computers is nothing new, but with microphones and cameras in so many vulnerable devices these days it’s a time of opportunity for snoopers. A quick Google search for hacked IoT devices brings up news stories of baby monitor microphones being hacked and used to spook parents or wake babies by yelling or playing loud music over the feed.

In January a similar vulnerability was discovered in IoT and AI enabled “Hello Barbie”. Once hacked the doll can be used in the same way the baby monitors.

Vehicles are not safe from attack either. Washington and San Diego Universities decided to put the 2009-edition Sedan to the test. From opposite sides of the USA they were able to track the car by GPS, listen to conversations and worst of all override the brakes and bring the car to a halt. The need for tighter IoT security is real.

What’s being done to secure the IoT?

Fortunately organisations such as IoT Security Forum are raising awareness by holding educational events around the world.

Researchers like Lorrie Cranor of Carnegie Mellon University are working on ways to give the user more privacy over their data. Cranor is currently developing a personalised privacy assistant that will monitor a user’s data and give them new levels of control, such as the ability to scan a room for live video streams and giving the option to blur out their face.

The need for stronger security has prompted start-ups like Cujo to develop home security devices. Cujo is an adorable but powerful smart device which is simply plugged in to a router and acts as a gateway between the router and devices, monitoring networks for suspicious and malicious activity.

What can I do to secure my home?

The IoT is still young and it’s likely there will be a lot of security trial and error, but one of the easiest ways to stay secure is to keep all of your device firmware and apps updated with the latest patches. Stay in control of who has access to your data by checking the privacy settings of the apps you download. Finally, if you haven’t done so already be sure to change your home router’s admin login details.

It was Google’s Nest Labs CEO, Tony Fadell who said “The truth is, homes change over time — and technology has to adapt, not try to do everything at once”. If anyone knows the IoT, it’s Google.

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