It can seem as though everything we own is a thinking machine. We have smartphones, watches, even refrigerators. The cognizant internet of things (IoT) is transforming the spaces we live and work, and some cities into connected ecosystems, sharing data on our behavior and helping make daily life easier. Most of us love this kind of convenience, but it’s not without risks.
The IoT presents opportunities for cybercriminals who operate across a variety of niches. Whether their motives are to steal data, gain control of connected items, or disrupt our lives — our reliance upon technology presents a veritable smorgasbord of access to illicit actors. We can be rather complacent when it comes to these connected items too, our behavior enhancing the vulnerabilities.
This is why our behavior needs something of an overhaul if we intend to embrace the concept of the smart home. We must educate ourselves on threats, tactics, and best practices. So, what are the primary areas of cybersecurity concern? What steps should we be taking both individually and as a society? Where should we be focusing our efforts?
The Challenges of Affordability
We’re fortunate to be living at a time in which many of us are able to afford some form of smart device. Even being a renter isn’t a barrier to embracing elements of a smart home; devices don’t necessarily need to be integral to the structure of the building to make a difference. Smart thermostats that monitor the temperature of your home and learn your preferences, AC units you can control via a smartphone app, and motion detectors that intelligently adjust lighting based on occupancy can all be easily installed and then replaced taken with you when you move.
However, we have to consider how the relative affordability of smart home devices might reflect the security of our IoT item collection. Cheaper devices may well be indicative of the level of investment that has been placed in them, and the evidence suggests that the manufacturers of third party IoT items that don’t have relationships with operating system developers or key software providers tend not to operate reliable security architecture. This means that buyers on a budget may be introducing items to their connected ecosystem that could be harmful.
It could be easy to say that the solution is buying more expensive items — but this is neither practical nor necessarily true. Certainly, there needs to be a greater overall focus by manufacturers on security from the outset of development, but there are also steps we can take as consumers. Do some research into the creators of the device to see whether they regularly provide remote security updates. A 2017 report showed that 49% of developers don’t. Keep your entire ecosystem secure by regularly changing network passwords, and make certain that all device passwords have been adjusted from standard settings.
The Prevalent Risks
It can seem that every time we take a step forward in innovation, there’s a cybercriminal there to throw obstacles in our path. Cybersecurity is an ongoing process, the dangers in the IoT frequently shift, and hackers develop new and intelligent ways to access our information and devices. If you’re going to protect your smart home effectively, it helps to keep abreast of the contemporary problems.
Understanding points of IoT vulnerability is often dependent upon how you’re using it. For example, if your IoT ecosystem is focused on your utilities — controlling everything from your refrigerator to your thermostat — one of the prevalent issues is ransomware. A cybercriminal can conceivably access your IoT items and over-use your lighting or heating systems, running up electricity bills that you are responsible until you agree to make a payment. If your IoT items include entertainment systems linked to your online shopping accounts, they may gain access to sensitive financial data. If your ecosystem includes items that you take away from home (such as a smartwatch) and reintroduce to your network of objects on your return, there is the potential that you may be inadvertently providing a door for cybercriminals to gain access.
Perhaps one of the more concerning risks with smart homes is the fact that many of these devices come equipped with cameras — from digital assistants to smart doorbells. Some of our home security systems also rely upon elements of the IoT — such as the ability to unlock your door using your smartphone. The key to avoiding these security problems can be a robust approach to risk assessment. This isn’t an attempt at fearmongering, rather the more knowledgeable you are about the risks, the better able you can be to protect yourself against them.
Financing the Future
In many ways, building an ecosystem of smart devices for the home is an investment in our future way of life. To achieve a widespread level of connection it can certainly be expensive in terms of the initial outlay, but this should also be weighed against the tendency for these items to be more energy efficient. Many of these smart appliances conform to Energy Star efficiency specifications, which often makes them easier to finance when you’re remodeling your kitchen. On top of that, you not only stand to save on utility bills but may also qualify for tax breaks and rebates.
Of course, it does no good to make significant investments into objects in our IoT if we’re not also willing to divert some of this toward robust cybersecurity. In an ideal world, we’ll be purchasing only new items built by manufacturers that have focused on high-level protection. But that’s not always going to be the case. Your router is often going to be the first place to start — it is the hub to which all your IoT devices will be commonly linked, and as such it represents a potentially valuable gateway to hackers. Therefore, it’s wise to invest in a router with strong security protocols, including the ability to select strong encryption methods.
The more we accept IoT devices in our homes, the more security products will enter the market — there are even cyber insurance options available. For the most part, though, your investment in cybersecurity will be one of time and education. Learn about best practices, understand where the vulnerabilities may be, regularly spend time with your family to agree on protocols you all undertake while using your smart home.
The range of items that allow us to create our own smart homes seems to be growing every day. However, in order to fully embrace this in our lives, we also have the responsibility to remain cognizant of the cybersecurity threats this can present. By taking the time to understand where risks lie and educate ourselves on personal measures we can take, we can minimize the damage cybercriminals may have on our homes.
About the author: Jori Hamilton is a freelance writer residing in the Northwestern U.S. Coming from a marketing background, Jori took interest in blogging and content marketing and quickly found a particular interest in Technology, Business, and Productivity.
With over eight years of writing experience, she decided to jump fully into a freelance writing career. This gave her the opportunity to write for a number of great publications, including DataFloq, BizCatalyst360, Clinician Today, and The Job Network.
If she’s not writing, she enjoys traveling or being curled up in a blanket, reading a good book. You can follow her on her Twitter and LinkedIn.