How the Internet of Things Threatens Your Security

Coming soon to your home: The Internet of Things and the risks it imposes: Internet Scambusters #716

Are you connected to the Internet of Things?

You may be, without even realizing it — and there are more and more connective home devices on the way.

In this week’s issue we’ll explain what it is, how it affects you and what the accompanying security risks are.

However, before we begin, we first encourage you to take a look at this week’s most popular articles from our other sites:

Cheap Household Cleansers You Might Try: If you’re willing to back away from the expensive options and consider a few cheap household cleansers, then read on to take a look at a few of the more common possibilities.

Four Misconceived Myths About Bats:  As you’re learning the facts about these four bat myths, keep in mind that if it weren’t for bats, the mosquitoes and other annoying bugs would overwhelm us!

Let’s get started…

How the Internet of Things Threatens Your Security

It seems like just when we’re coming to grips with one new piece of technology, something new comes along to bamboozle us again.

And the trend is not likely to change anytime soon as more and more devices in our homes get connected to us and to each other via the Internet.

This is what people refer to as the Internet of Things (IoT), a topic we touched on recently in our article Technology Delivers New Hacking and Key Copying Threats when we discussed how hackers have been trying to access and gain control of these devices.

Right now, IoT is mainly focused on business, notably networks of machines and industrial robots. But, we’re already seeing IoT devices in homes — on smart TVs, security systems and domestic appliances.

The idea is quite simply to give us greater control over the things that are supposed to make life easier in our homes. Soon, electrical items that break down will be able to tell us what’s wrong and how to get it fixed — surely a great time and money saver.

Using an Internet door entry system, we can also answer a knock on the front door and view who’s there even when we’re not at home, we can set and unset security alarms, switch appliances on and off and even switch on the heating and draw the drapes to create a cozy atmosphere for when we get back home.

In the process, most of us probably don’t give a second thought to the question of securing access to these systems. After all, who but you would want to mess around with that remotely controlled thermostat in the entry-way?

The answer is probably no one. But the trouble is that the thermostat or any other IoT controlled device is potentially connected to all the others via your Wi-Fi network, including your home security or alarm system. Potentially, any one of them is a gateway to all the rest.

In fact, Google actually has a service called Thread whose purpose is to link all your online appliances and devices together.

If you’re technically-minded, you can read about Thread on Wikipedia.

The problem is that most of us aren’t technically minded, yet we are increasingly allowing, or being asked to allow, Internet-accessible things — the workings of which we don’t understand — in our homes.

This is a challenge that won’t be going away, so we may as well knuckle down and learn how to make these devices and networks as secure as possible.

In fact, there are a few simple things you can do, without being a techie, to minimize the risk of security breaches.

Five Key Tips

Here are 5 tips to follow:

  1. Be sure you know which devices in your home are actually Internet-accessible. Sometimes you may not realize when you buy them and, increasingly, you may not have a choice of whether the feature is included or not, though you might be able to switch off the connection. If it’s an electronic product, ask the salesperson or check the manual.
  2. If you decide you want to buy a connected device, check reviews and get a clear idea of price and capabilities. This should help you steer clear of counterfeits (usually much cheaper), which may have security weaknesses or even intentionally embedded malware that can spy on your wireless system.
  3. When researching connected devices, establish if they come with “embedded security.” Manufacturers are starting to add this feature.
  4. Keep all appliances/devices up to date. The “brains” of IoT devices, from smart TVs to intelligent refrigerators, are often built into circuitry known as “firmware” — which means it can be reprogrammed or updated. As security risks are identified, manufacturers often update the firmware. Unfortunately, sometimes updates must be done manually; check your manual or the manufacturer’s website on how to do this.
  5. Make sure your home network is secure. The manual that came with your router — the device that distributes Wi-Fi signals in your home — will tell you how to set the highest possible security level, change the password and even make your network invisible to snoopers.

And ensure that the Internet security software on your PC is also up to date.

Right now, you may think you don’t have any IoT devices at home. But if you have a smart TV, a wireless thermostat or newer video doorbell systems, you almost certainly do.

In a recent investigation, security firm Proofpoint found that some home-based non-computer devices were already being linked into a botnet — an illegal, remotely controlled network used to spy on computer systems and to send out spam.

Currently, there are estimated to be around 50 billion connected devices worldwide, and the number is rocketing.

The Internet of Things is going to be a central part of everyday life soon. So, make the time now to find out if or how your current TVs and other devices connect to the Internet and take action to secure them.

Alert of the Week

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has released four new videos dealing with imposter scammers — people who pose as officials, lonely-hearts, relatives and others supposedly in need of your cash.

The videos, also available in Spanish, are short and easy to watch — so, well worth the time to view.

That’s all for today — we’ll see you next week.