One of the buzzword in the tech world these days is the Internet of Things and the idea behind it is that in near future all of our home appliances (among other things) will be connected to the internet and controlled by it. We will be able to set our toasters from our smartphones. Our thermostats can be monitored and programmed from afar. We can control every aspect of our environments with just a few taps on a screen or a voice command. It sounds like a wonderful time to be alive.
Yet there is a major downside to the Internet of Things (IoT), and it is what could occur if such a system were to be hacked. Can someone set a fire in your home by turning your connected oven on when you aren’t around? Could an electronic baby monitor be repurposed to spy on you and your family? It might even be possible to shut down a car in the middle of traffic. If you can think of it right now, someone else has already thought about it years ago and possibly put a plan into motion.
Here are a few things that you need to know about the internet of things:
It is changing rapidly
Despite what everyone is saying about the IoT, as a consumer concept it is still relatively new, and people need to know that in some cases the jury is still out regarding their security. We have a much clearer idea of what to look out for in the products we use every day because we have so much data and experience to work off of. The IoT is made up of a lot of products most people won’t use.
This makes the security situation tricky at best. How can one take a holistic and cost-efficient approach to IoT security when the system isn’t entirely uniform yet? How in the world does one secure a WiFi connected toaster? Solutions have been invented, of course, but hackers can still stay one step ahead with enough perseverance and find the weakest point in the system. In this chaotic environment, the hackers have the advantage.
It is reliant on WiFi
No matter what device you are using or what sort of system you are using, a common thread in nearly every IoT device is a wireless connection. Hackers are fully aware of this weakness and will often work on infiltrating the choke point for all of your devices instead of spending a week developing methods to hack your internet-connected blender (if they don’t exist already, give it some time and they will). The network you use is probably the best point for any hacker to attack in gaining access to the IoT.
This is especially the case for people checking on their home from a public network. Hackers can intercept data (including relevant login credentials and private data) over such a network with a simple setup and then do whatever they want with the information. The best defense against such an attack is a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which is a service that will connect you to an offsite secure server via an encrypted connection. This will protect you while you are on any network, keep you anonymous online and even let you access otherwise blocked websites.
Hacking through connected devices is an option
Your smartphone is already a target. Connecting it to devices via the IoT will make it an even bigger target. Someone who is able to get into a device itself might even be able to get into your smartphone or computer via its connection. You can’t assume it’s a one-way street, and you need to check what kind of connection you are working with in any situation. Authentication measures need to be locked down, and verification measures need to be implemented to the point where they can’t be duplicated. Otherwise hackers will always have the upper hand.
As mentioned before, you need to defend every point of access in your network and all a hacker needs to do is hit a single weak target. When you add devices you are not only adding targets but possibly multiplying them. Is that a risk you can afford to sustain through the coming years?
Security solutions aren’t perfect yet
Related to the fact that the IoT is still an emerging trend is the fact that perfect security solutions (that are actually affordable) don’t exist yet for our devices. One might say that is the case with even our basic computers, but if you turn your computer on and use one of the better security suites in conjunction with good habits you don’t expect much to happen to you. We can expect very little from IoT developers who are more worried about next year’s model, and a lot of security is oriented at the main access points and networks that the IoT relies on.
This is likely a good call, but it does not instill confidence. What if a hacker were to find a way into the device itself? They’re certainly trying, and hackers will be on the cutting edge of technology just as quickly as programmers and developers will (not all of them, but absolutely enough to be a threat). All of these added connections mean more potential routes of attack for cybercriminals and new opportunities for crime. The security needs to match the need, and currently that is not the case. The world is looking pretty good for a hacker right about now.
If there is a profit to be made from it or chaos that can brought down, someone will try to figure out a way to hack your technology. Your personal information and safety are too important to leave things to chance, so make sure to treat the IoT with a healthy dose of skepticism. Also, keep yourself up to date regarding the latest developments in this field, as we can never be sure what’s around the corner.
Do you have any connected devices in your home that you are concerned about? Have you heard anything interesting about extant or upcoming products that you would like to share with your fellow readers? If so, please leave a comment below so the conversation can be extended. This is an important topic that can’t get enough attention.
Jen Martinson is a blogger and online security expert who works as editor-in-chief for Secure Thoughts, an internet security website whose main focus is keeping everyday people safe from online threats. In addition to being an cybersecurity nut, Jen is also a math nerd who does algebra for fun.