The Internet of Things is set to take the rest of this decade by storm it is predicted, with everything from your dishwasher to your doorbell becoming an Internet-connected device. Though you might feel this is going to be an amazing technological transition since you will be able to manage almost everything related to your home over the Internet, many are forgetting to take on board the inherent security risks that are associated with all web-connected devices. The question is, are you prepared for the onslaught of technological devices for any purpose, and if so, are you willing to put your security on the line in order to make some things in life just slightly easier?
Everything could soon be connected
Many experts are predicting a future where everything is connected to the Internet and this could be where the problems start. There is the theory that if somebody has a door lock that can be unlocked by their smartphone so to say, or a car that will only start using their smartphone or any other device, then this could produce a perfect environment for hackers looking towards extortion. If lax security were in place then it wouldn’t take much for a hacker to take over these devices and hold them to ransom, only letting the owner have use of them once a ransom has been paid. I’m of the opinion that it may just be best to keep some things simple and to continue to lock your doors using a regular key – making something as simple as this ‘smart’ won’t really add too much to consumers’ lives.
Some devices have already proved the benefits that are to be had
However, taking into consideration the above, it would be fair to say that some ‘smart home’ devices have already proved their worth – take the Nest thermostat for example, it’s been highly successful and the Nest company was this year acquired by Google for a cool $3.2bn. The Nest Thermostat though has tapped into a part of people’s lives that is a ‘first world problem’ for many – coming home to a cold house. With Nest you can easily switch on the heating before you get home, or control it from your mobile device if you don’t want to move from the sofa; these are common themes that many will be able to relate to. It is the devices that are able to find a real niche in people’s day-to-day lives that will be successful and not the ones that are smart just for the sake of being smart. The devices I don’t expect to be too successful include household items that already do their job and won’t gain or improve much from being connected to the Internet, these being items such as fridges and dishwashers.
As with any technological device, the biggest security risk at present lies in the use of default passwords that are used by manufacturers and the failure of many users to change these when they purchase a device. We’ve already seen a website setup to display Internet-connected security cameras that have been hacked using just the default password and people’s privacy being invaded as these cameras are streamed to the public 24×7. When purchasing any electronic device that is going to be connected to the Internet, whether it is a router, IP camera, or fridge, you need to make sure that you change the password associated with any Internet accessible interfaces on these devices. Leaving the password as it was set in the factory could leave you vulnerable to attack and to having your privacy invaded, when it is something that can be prevented so simply.
Removing the focus from purely smart home devices, the Internet of things is likely to include healthcare devices as well. In fact experts have predicted that the first ‘technological murder’ – by which hackers would end somebody’s life by compromising an Internet-connected health device – could take place by the end of 2014, but the odds are stacked against this. The benefit of making some devices, such as pacemakers and other internal instruments, smart, is that they can then be configured and have their settings changed wirelessly without the need for any further surgical intervention, something that is in the interests of the patient both physically and mentally. Making external instruments such as heart monitors and life support machines smart could allow for the remote monitoring of patients, but both of these scenarios have obvious security and safety implications, hence why their uptake has been minimal so far.
Further security measures
Further security measures can be taken to protect smart devices. I think a good rule to follow is to not choose any smart devices that you don’t really need – there’s no point introducing a security risk where there doesn’t need to be a security risk. Ensuring that any devices connected directly to the Internet lie behind a strong firewall is also recommended and that any other ways into your network, such as through a compromised computer or memory stick, are also well guarded will help to protect you.