The Vulnerability of Smart Devices

Media Division | June 20, 2017

Siri and smartphones were just the beginning.  Now with Echo, Alexia and countless online guides to the ultimate “smart home” AI is everywhere (well, with roots arguably dated back to the 1930’s and imagined in science fiction since the dawn of the genre).

Today’s “smart” devices may remote start your car, auto change your clocks and preheat dinner, but they may also make you susceptible to hacking at a level never known before.

So understand the vulnerability of those smart devices, if you want to be really smart about them.

The IoT

While forecasters vacillate about the exact numbers, a good (and staggering) estimate about the number of internet connected devices by the year 2020 seems to be about 30 billion. Even if that number is off by several percentage points, the evidence is clear: an astronomical number of digital devices are available on the market and a growing number of consumers use those devices.

Those items, under the umbrella of the internet of things (IoT), lower shades when the sun comes out, water lawns to maintain a lush green, and will enable self-driving cars to improve highway safety and reduce traffic jams.

But what if your electric, self-driving smart car was subject to hacking, which could accelerate your vehicle, take you off course, or even just eavesdrop on all of your conversations?

It isn’t paranoia.  Cyber security breaches of this nature have already occurred.  And no one is immune.  Even a Pentagon official recently fell prey to a cyber security breach.

The IoT could be used for several kinds of attacks:

  • DDoS attacksDistributed denial of service attacks, like the massive attack on internet supporter Dyn that famously shut down “half the internet” last year, by hijacking IoT devices.
  • Direct attack—Cyber threat actors could target specific people, either for direct reasons or for access the individual may have to secure data.
  • Widespread attack—Threat actors wishing only to create chaos, such as suspected North Korean-sponsored hacks, could use the IoT to do non-specific but widespread damage to societal operations.

Protections Against IoT Threats

So do we all switch to analog?  Well, it’s not outside the realm of possibility, and insiders say analog may be making a comeback in some cases.  But you don’t have to abandon your Bluetooth speakers and ditch wireless router to protect yourself from the threats against the IoT.

The most important protection is just a good-old-fashioned password.

The trouble is in passwording.  Many devices, even if they are password enabled, either only allow for a default password, or people do not change the default password.  That makes those devices completely hackable.  A default password is the same, for all intents and purposes, as no password at all.

Then if you buy only those devices which allow you to set a password, you must choose those passwords wisely.

Cyber Security for a Smart Era

Cyber security and threat mitigation for an era of smart devices require simply being a little smarter.  No one could remotely hack your calculator when you got that first one with graphing capability, and certainly, when we drove our first Jeep we didn’t imagine a world where someone else could gain access remotely to the braking system.

But the world has changed and we must keep up with it.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with jumping on the smart device/smart home bandwagon, so long as you play the game smarter as well.

By following these guidelines for all smart devices, from your watch to your office security system, you will protect yourself from cyber security vulnerability.

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