Is your fridge a cyberthreat?
No, we’re not talking about SkyNet transforming your refrigerator into a killing machine; this is about security holes in the Internet of Things (IoT).
These days, finding appliances that don’t connect to the internet can be a challenge, let alone all of the things that we buy specifically for that purpose. Technological advancement allows us to answer doorbells remotely, track our steps, and even have coffee made for us when we wake up or arrive at work. It’s like having a virtual assistant.
A virtual assistant who learns a lot about us and lives on our network. But what do we know about it?
To answer that question, we need a better understanding of the IoT.
Internet of Things (IoT) History
Computer and technology companies have long been trying to find a way to incorporate virtual assistants into our daily lives. Just ten years ago, as Siri’s popularity began to bloom, an AI virtual assistant still seemed more science-fiction than reality. After all, Google had been processing voice-based searches for some time, adding voice search to the Blackberry Pearl back in 2008.
Perhaps spoiled by the concept of Rosie, Hal, and Jarvis having so many capabilities, these services were not particularly satisfying to use for most people. But as smartphone capabilities grew, a demand for more services followed. Now, estimates indicate that more than 128 million people in the US use voice assistants and smart speakers, with that trend expected to grow exponentially in the US and worldwide.
Why is this so important to the IoT?
Automated devices need the right interface to draw in consumers. That same science-fiction voice-based concept that spoiled us ten years ago is now one of the driving components. How strong is that drive? There are more than 400 million devices that support Google Assistant.
Those connected devices, and a growing number like them, make up the IoT.
Home and Business
Smart speakers are very popular at home, interacting with security systems, smart thermostats, appliances, and entertainment systems. And as much as the voice component keeps driving this, it’s the access through our smartphones that continues to push their popularity forward. And not just at home. Many businesses have incorporated smart thermostats to give better control over heating and cooling costs. Being able to set and easily adjust light timers improve security and help to control electric costs.
A handful of smart devices can help small business owners to manage costs that could be the difference that makes them profitable or gives them the ability to expand.
We love smart technology for the convenience they offer, and many will pay for themselves over time. Let’s look back at that smart fridge. Aside from alerting you if the door is left open or you are running low on ice, it can detect items stored in it, keep track of expiration dates, and even monitor usage. Instead of wondering if you’re out of milk while at the grocery store, you can just check with the fridge. It can even provide lists of items no longer in it to help you with your shopping list.
This is the level of convenience that we want from our virtual assistants at home and work!
You have to ask yourself why tech companies are driven to provide us with virtual assistants. Sure, they want to sell us more connected devices, but they also get to learn more about buying behaviors, interests, and habits. That information is arguably more valuable than the purchase of the device itself. It is a constant stream of marketing information to design better products and make more appealing advertisements.
As privacy laws continue to address this, much of the data is de-identified, meaning that it doesn’t include specific identifiers such as name, email address, location data, or even internal identification numbers. But other information, including general demographics, combined with this stream of data to produce valuable data analytics.
The benefit to all of us is that companies can make more relevant products with features we want and offer overall better customer services and experiences.
The downside is that smart devices require more from our networks and represent a potential security threat. While legitimate companies are compelled to follow the rules and de-identify data, hackers are under no such obligation – they make money by stealing personal data.
We estimate that there are around 25 billion connected devices globally, with that number doubling by 2030. When it comes to the Internet of Things, security experts have a ton of concerns, including:
- A lack of data encryption
- Weak, easily guessable, or unchanged admin passwords
- Few mechanisms for security updates and reminders
- Insecure network interfaces and applications
- No central device management options
- Insufficient Privacy Protections
- Susceptibility to Botnet attacks
- Data transfer and storage security concerns
Some of these concerns are beyond our control, but there are steps that we can take to mitigate security risks. There are two things to do immediately.
- Note all the information about the devices, including MAC address, IP address, serial number, and location.
- Change the admin password immediately, and use a Strong Password on the device and any associated accounts.
Anytime a new device is introduced into a home or business, it should be controlled and configured with security in mind. Inventory them like a new computer or mobile device, so you know exactly what devices you have in your environment. Physically secure each device when possible. That means mounting them appropriately, keeping them away from areas they can be tampered with directly, and making a habit of checking them for tampering. Also, all the information that the device gathers should be mapped, including which areas are covered by cameras or sensors and all credentials.
With a little forethought and awareness, there’s no reason we can’t enjoy the benefits of the Internet of Things without having to worry about cybersecurity problems with the fridge.
I’ve always had a love of working with technology, being fortunate enough to have grown up with a grandfather who taught me how to fix things for myself and not be afraid to jump in and get my hands dirty. Over the last three decades, I’ve worked as a technician, trainer, technical writer, and manager in small business, enterprise organizations, and government. In addition, I’m an author, having published multiple works available online and in print. You can find my creative work at https://WritingDistracted.com