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Where the IoT Is Going: A Cybersecurity Perspective

The Internet of Things leaves many of us with questions, and we’re pleased to have an opportunity to answer some of those questions thanks to technected.com. If you happen to be managing a business, consider reading their article “How to Optimise Your Business by Using Technology” for some helpful tips.

IoT

Image courtesy of David Berkowitz under CC BY 2.0

In the past few years, there’s been a growing buzz around the “Internet of Things.” Increasingly more household objects that were once simple plug and play devices now have begun to interface with the net. This has left two very different kinds of impressions on consumers:

  • What makes this device better now that it has internet capabilities?
  • Why does my toaster need to go online?

But what is easily overlooked by consumers is not so easily ignored by manufacturers once problems and complaints start to appear. Giving a device internet access means opening it up to a world of problems not once known. We are entering an age where manufacturers will have to answer the question: “Can my lightbulb be hacked?”

Additional Features or Additional Ads?

Perhaps one of the first devices to become widely spread as a new addition to the Internet of Things is the smart TV. This addition made sense to quite a number of people because it meant combining some of the more rudimentary functions of a computer with the typical viewing features of a TV. More specifically, access to apps and the internet allow a smart TV to use services such as Netflix and Hulu without any exterior devices.

These TVs can also access certain file types on external drives via USB connection and are in some cases affixed with a built-in camera. However, these smart TVs might be paying more attention than you think. Just last year, Samsung was accused of using their TVs to listen to people’s conversations and target ads at them during their viewing experience.

This is the worst form of security breach because it is built into the device; no foul play was involved that could reasonably be prevented. In fact the whole purpose behind this new addition was to help sell more advertising to you. It’s just another monetization scheme for wealthy companies (and Vizio appears to be following suit).

It also represents a danger that is far removed from your average hacker, who usually only goes after unsecured internet connections and otherwise vulnerable devices.

This is probably a good opportunity to mention that your smart TV can be protected against foul play by installing a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service such as ExpressVPN. By connecting to a remove server, you can encrypt the connection going to and from your device, which essentially cuts hackers out of the equation.

Unfortunately, not all devices have apps you can install.

Getting Smarter or Getting Dumber?

Once the smart TV started gaining popularity, manufacturers also decided to start connecting a slew of other devices. If you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed refrigerators, light bulbs and home security systems all have versions with internet access. Home security cameras and even new cars are also starting to connect to the internet.

Much of this is sold as being for diagnostic purposes. For instance, you’d have the opportunity to receive a notification on your phone or in your email if the fridge temperature drops too low, helping you save food inside. But is that really worth the additional cost and the added risk?

Last year, white hats were able to successfully hack a Jeep Cherokee and gain control over a variety of its critical functions (such as brakes, transmission, etc.) by going through its entertainment system. The dangers here are obvious, as hackers might threaten much more than your privacy—they might endanger your life.

Handling this type of security breach is the responsibility of both the end user and the manufacturer. The manufacturer has the responsibility of providing updates to block those kinds of hacks, but the end user also bears the responsibility of making sure they get these critical updates as soon as possible. This may require visiting a dealership, as the update is unlikely to be available over a standard internet connection.

Progressive or Unnecessary?

Bringing more devices into the Internet of Things certainly creates new opportunities for us all. New technology means extra work for designers and engineers to be employed for, and it also means growth for the security industry. When we create more devices with internet capability, we’re forced to solve the security problems that go along with them.

The military has already begun working on an unhackable kernel (or operating system) that functions separately from other connected features. This technology could be expanded to more devices (such as our smart TVs and cars) to prevent hackers from ever accessing the critical control features of these devices.

Yet despite all the progress being made in this field, we’re still left with the question of whether or not all the added work is necessary or worthwhile. It’s true a smart refrigerator might warn you about food spoiling. But the extra cost associated with these features for devices that already seemed to work well makes it a hard sell outside of the extreme luxuries market. But there is another market.

Business or Pleasure?

As consumers, we usually think of the Internet of Things in terms of smart devices, but there is another category totally divorced from that concept. Devices that function exclusively for business purposes are also increasingly a part of the scheme.

If you’ve been to Walmart or any other major retailer lately, you’ve probably noticed an increase in the number of monitors. Increasingly businesses are integrating these devices to display ads and information for consumers on the fly. But they are just the most visible items.

Varying degrees of sensors can also track foot traffic in different areas of the store, the numbers of items on the shelves, and communicate this data in a useful way to the business owner. This is also true of cities.

Large places such as New York City are likely to take advantage of smart tech consumers are using to communicate information faster and more efficiently. We’re talking smart cars that might communicate with the rest of the grid (stop lights, etc.) to make travel more convenient.

The huge amount of security cameras might also help better find criminals and lost persons, or perhaps invade your privacy at all times, a la 1984.

A Bright Future Awaits

Despite our criticism, smart technology is coming like a freight train. Because of mass manufacturing, the features that are expensive today may be very cheap in a few years, effectively replacing non-used devices and growing the Internet of Things even more.

Our responsibility is to make sure manufacturers get it right. Consumers can vote with their wallets by not buying devices they don’t believe should be connected to the net. It’s also likely that we’ll see a split in the market where both devices continue to exist alongside one another (those connected and those not).

One thing, however, is certain. In order to “better serve us,” these devices will collect more data than ever before. Outside of living in the woods, your everyday behaviors will become increasingly tracked in order to both make your life easier and to sell you more products.

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