Our fridges can tell us when we’re running low on food, we can adjust our central heating on our way home from work, and filter machines can make our morning coffee before we even get out of bed. If you forget to close a window, set the alarm, lock the door or you just want to check that you have actually remembered to do all these things, it’s no problem. It seems there’s an app, a programme or a product that means that you can control everything from your computer or mobile device.
We’ve reached the point where the trend to make products smart is so commonplace that we’re even seeing inventions like Bluetooth-connected smart shorts which vibrate to tell you where to go, and a smart toothbrush that lets you watch yourself brushing your teeth – recent additions to my list of “most ridiculous connected devices”. On the whole, though, most developments aren’t in this category and those that truly help us manage our lives quickly become as indispensable as our smartphones.
Just as we need to protect our phones, we also need to be careful with our smart devices in our homes as they could be letting thieves in even when our doors are locked. We’ve all heard of computers being unwittingly infected by malware and ransomware, as happened recently to the NHS, and in fact any internet connected device could be vulnerable to cyber-attacks like this too. Take note anyone who is tempted to use their fridges to order groceries and their digital personal assistants to do their banking.
Gartner has estimated an 8.4 billion connected devices in use in 2017, so at Avast, we decided to research how many are actually vulnerable to cyber-attack. We found that 14% of the UK’s connected devices could be compromised due to the poor security they have in place, of which nearly half were routers. When you consider that on average there are 8.3 connected devices in a UK home, it means at least one of your devices could be giving hackers the digital keys to your home.
You’d be forgiven for wondering ‘So what if a hacker can take control of my smart kettle or smart fridge?’ Interrupting the tea-making routines of the British public might give rise to a string of complaints on Twitter, but it hardly constitutes a serious cybercrime. Nonetheless, the same principals apply as they do with a computer, tablet, mobile phone or your Wi-Fi connection.
You wouldn’t dream of having an unsecured network at home, not just because people could use up your bandwidth but also because it could give hackers access to your computer and potential all the sensitive and personal information on it. The old adage that you are only as strong as your weakest link applies to any network you have, and anything connected to it.
Our research also found that that around a fifth of webcams in the UK also lacked any security. It’s not hard to imagine what hackers may be able to see through this little window into your home, including snooping on personal moments you wouldn’t want made public or even you typing in your banking password to your laptop. When you consider that baby monitors are also increasingly internet enabled, the increased risk of what could be accessed and takes an even darker turn.
Whilst I don’t think we should be eyeing all our devices with suspicion quite yet, as more connected devices enter our homes – which they certainly will if the adoption of smart phones and tablets is anything to go by – it’s important that we understand the potential risks and take the necessary steps to protect ourselves. Just as a laptop doesn’t always come with security inbuilt, neither do other devices that connect to the Internet. Increasingly, there are calls for manufacturers of these devices, internet service providers and other suppliers of IoT technology to take some of the responsibility for providing security options with their products; however, this is not yet a requirement and we should not assume protection is available for any IoT product we buy.
For the most part, the same rules around security best practice apply. Having unique passwords for each connected device, downloading the latest software updates and using a robust and reputable antivirus solution are all important tools in keeping your home network and devices secure. An additional step is to use a product which scans your home networks for vulnerable devices, like Avast’s Wi-Fi Inspector, so you can then put security protection in place.
As our homes become jam-packed with smarter devices in the years to come, they may help to makes our lives easier. At the same time, if they are not secured, they also can make the lives of cyber criminals easier by giving access to our whole network and all the devices on it. To be truly safe in our smart homes then we need to start applying the same security principles we already do with our mobile phones and computers.
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