While the idea of having household appliances such as your fridge email you to tell it is low on milk might seem appealing, recent hacks have highlighted the vulnerabilities of The Internet of Things (IoT).
What is The Internet of Things?
The idea behind The Internet of things is quite simple: it’s about connecting everyday devices over the internet and then getting them to communicate with each other, apps, and users to allow us be better manage and live our lives. It is not a new idea, as far back as 1989 the worlds first toaster connected to a network was presented to the world at a tech conference. The most common current application of IoT technology are smart energy meters which allow users to turn the heating on and off and adjust the temperature of a room remotely when they are not home,
However, the ideas for applications of IoT goes far beyond individuals and it has been envisioned to include whole cities. So called ‘smart cities’ would have traffic controls connected and monitored via the internet, to reduce congestion. Sensors in ‘smart bins’ would alert city garbage collectors when bins needed to be emptied and drivers looking for somewhere to park would be directed to empty parking spots via data sent to their phones.
The Impact on Business and Industry
The impact of the IoT on business has been far reaching, particularly is areas such as manufacturing, as the IoT is an ideal system for programming machines and for organising people. The agricultural industry has also been an early adopter of IoT technology, using sensors to monitor the growth of crops and the movements of cattle, in an effort to boost production and keep track of herds.
Over the coming years IoT is likely to expand into most areas of business, in a similar way that personal computing and email and mobile communications have spread into every area of life over the last 20 years.
While the potential benefits of using IoT are easy to appreciate when looking at machines or plant, when it comes to office workers who are being constantly monitored and pressured to be more productive, the idea begins to take on a slightly dystopian shade: imagine your security ID being used to track where you at all times, so your boss can work out how long you take to make your coffee and where you go to drink it.
How Safe is The Internet of Things?
A studies have shown that 70% of the most commonly used IoT devices had serious security flaws with 90% of the devices using unencrypted network service and 70% vulnerable through weak passwords. There have been several recent high profile hacks which have highlighted flaws in The Internet of Things:
In July, hackers took control of a car and crashed it into a ditch by remotely breaking into its systems whilst sitting on a sofa 10 miles away. Using just a laptop and mobile phone to access the Jeep’ s on-board systems via its wireless Internet connection, the security experts cut out the engine and applied the brakes on the Jeep Cherokee – sending it into a spin and crashing it into a ditch. The Internet connected computer feature that has been installed in fleets of Fiat Chrysler cars since late 2013. It controls the entertainment system, deals with navigation and allows phone calls. More than 470,000 cars made by Fiat Chrysler could be at risk of being attacked by similar means.
With microprocessors now being embedded in all kinds of medical devices, including pace makers, insulin dispensers and defibrillators, medical devices implanted with your body could be at risk of being hacked. In 2007, former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was so concerned that terrorists would hack into his pacemaker in an attempt to assassinate him, he had the wireless connection to the device disabled.
In 2011, security researchers successfully tinkered with a best-selling insulin pump, using a hole in the pump’s wireless connection to demonstrate how the the amount of insulin released could be reset, leading to the possibility a fatal dose of insulin being administered to a patient.
Earlier this year, 17 hackers were arrested for using malware to capture nude pictures of Miss Teen USA using her webcam. The hackers allegedly used a remote access tool to infiltrate the teen’s computer. The tool works by sending a seemingly innocent link via a social media platform. Once the victim clicks on the link, their computer downloads malware that initiates a key logger and grants the hacker access to stored documents while also activating the webcam.
How to Protect Yourself
In this brave new world of The internet of Things there are a number of steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Avoid storing personal identifying information on any device
- Make sure your password is a unique and complex password for each of your devices so that if hackers gain access only one of your devices is compromised
- Take the time to read the fine print and find out what information is gathered and stored by your devices
- Change all default usernames and passwords on all of your home network devices as soon as turn them on for the first time
- Ensure that anti-virus and anti-malware software on your home computer network is turned on and regularly updated
Over the coming years the growth of the Internet of Things is likely to be unstoppable as the world becomes increasingly connected. Although the vulnerabilities in many of these everyday devices may seem harmless, as the example above show, they could lead to more serious consequences one day. Here at EasyHide-VPN we are not the biggest fans of The Internet of Things. We have always emphasized the need for high quality online security. While some of the ideas and devices do appeal to our inner geeks, the privacy and safety concerns do cause us some concern. However, as scary as The Internet of Things may appear, with increased efforts from tech companies to better provide security and privacy, linked with increased awareness of the need for online personal security precautions, there is no reason we cannot all reap the benefits of living in a world connected by The Internet of Things.