BBB: Is the ‘Internet of Things’ putting our information and safety at risk?
The integration of wireless technology to run our homes and other belongings is referred to by many as "The Internet of Things." Others call it "The connected world." Regardless of its name, the technology is used to run our homes, alarm systems, thermostats, refrigerators, lights, vehicles and more. One lesson businesses and consumers have learned since computers went mainstream, is that almost any technology can easily be hacked.
"A central concern is whether connected devices offer sufficient security," according to Connecticut Better Business Bureau spokesman Howard Schwartz. "Time will tell whether these new uses for technology are up to that task. Businesses and consumers who blindly embrace novel uses of technology without understanding its vulnerabilities may be putting their privacy and safety at risk. That is the proverbial double-edged sword of emerging technology."
There is no turning back the clock to the last century, before the widespread use of personal computers. At that time, consumers had no hint how a computer could be subverted by criminals and scammers, to get our financial and personal information.
Internet and wireless-based technologies are increasingly being used for all sorts of clever business and consumer products. We now know the problem with high-tech integration is that many of these innovations in recent years have had unintended consequences.
Many consumers distrust the way their information is being handled with good reason. After the immense theft of personal and financial information in data breaches, it is understandable that consumers and businesses are wary about the way so much of our information is stored and shared with third parties.
Here are some ways our high tech devices can betray us:
Our technology watches us. Modern Smart TVs have features that allow them to harvest information about our watching habits and sell it to third parties.
Vizio televisions made headlines when it was discovered information they collected was not handled securely. One preventative tip involves disconnecting your television from the internet when it isn't being used.
Computers have built-in cameras and microphones. Hackers have managed to turn them on to spy on unwitting victims. Security-conscious users routinely keep the camera covered when they are not using it.
Our privacy can be exposed in unusual ways. If you use a baby monitor, perhaps you have heard your neighbors' discussions and arguments. If so, that means they can probably hear you too. Hi tech baby monitors use your wireless router and the internet, to allow you to keep track of your residence when you're not at home. Unfortunately, the information sent over the internet is not encrypted. In other words, it can be intercepted.
We can be tracked almost anywhere we go. Billboards, stores, malls and other locations can pick up your Wi-Fi signal, collect users' information and share or sell it to other parties without revealing who will use it and how.
Smart car entertainment centers already have been hacked, allowing access to remotely steer, accelerate, brake, turn headlights and other systems on and off.
Technology can put our homes and lives at risk. There are now wireless and internet connections that can operate your security cameras, lights, alarm systems, thermostats and lock or unlock your doors, including your garage. The list of connected devices continues to grow exponentially.
The best way to secure your newly-connected world is to research as much as you can, contact a manufacturer if you have any security questions or concerns, and ensure that you change the passwords on your wireless routers and all of your smart devices, rather than leaving the default password. Default passwords for devices can easily be found online and used to compromise your personal and financial information.
Technological advances will continue, and experts are working on strengthening internet and wireless technology to further protect us. In the meantime, the best defense is to understand how these new devices work and what we can do to make them as safe as possible from the prying eyes of hackers.