The “internet of things” (IoT) is a system of web-connected devices or objects (including tracked animals and people) that can transfer data without any interaction between humans and computers. More than 75 billion IoT sensors and devices are projected to be in place by 2025.
The IoT facilitates 24/7 surveillance on a scale dwarfing anything that’s come before it. Initiatives like the smart city ensure you’ll be tracked everywhere you go via face recognition networks and sensors embedded in roads and buildings, anonymity traded for the promise of easier access to public services and greater convenience. Smart vehicles monitor everywhere you ride and will eventually learn to drive themselves.
But, with the exception of smart meters monitoring your consumption of utility-provided water, gas, and electricity, you can at least avoid 24/7 surveillance in your own home.
Google, Amazon, and many other companies make it incredibly easy to transition to a smart home. But connecting devices in your home to the internet turns each of them into a privacy and security threat.
Most of the time, you’ll never notice the consequences. But the more smart devices you have in your home, the higher the likelihood they can be taken over and used against you.
If a hacker succeeds in taking over a smart device in your home, they can probably access your entire local network, including all smart devices hooked into it. And smart devices are uniquely vulnerable because they’re developed with convenience in mind, not security.
Sure, it’s possible to secure each device and in some cases, download security updates for them. But doing so can be a hassle. Most consumers don’t take these precautions, and there’s a false sense of safety having IoT devices at home, since you’re using them behind closed doors.
And lots of smart devices can’t even be updated. To get the most secure version, you need to throw away the old device and buy a new one.
Think of the time you spend (hopefully) securing your personal computer or smartphone and downloading security updates for them. Now consider needing to do the same for every internet-connected appliance or device you own – your smart baby monitor, television, video recorder, security camera, light bulb, thermostat, doorbell, refrigerator, washing machine, dryer, air conditioners, sex toy, etc.
Don’t forget to create unique passwords for each of these devices, to frustrate hackers’ attempts to infiltrate your network.
It’s hardly surprising that hackers consider IoT devices to be attractive targets. Consider the popular Nest thermostat (owned by Google). It’s been plagued by security weaknesses that make it easier for hackers to hijack it since its introduction. Once a hacker takes control, they can access information like when you’re usually away from home and use that data to target you for a burglary. If Nest uses your family’s wi-fi network, they can retrieve the network password and use it to infiltrate any other smart device connected to your home network.
Or they just might want to annoy you. That might have been the motivation for a hacker that broke into the smart home system of a Milwaukee couple last September. The system consisted of a Google Nest camera, doorbell, and thermostat.
When the couple arrived home from work, they discovered their Nest thermostat had been turned up to 90oF. Then they heard a voice appearing to come from a smart camera in their kitchen. Even after they changed their Wi-Fi password, the hacker still controlled their network.
Networks of hacked smart devices can be used to launch massive “distributed denial-of-service” (DDoS) attacks to trigger internet outages. In 2016, malware known as “Mirai” took over millions of smart devices and used them to conduct a massive “distributed denial-of-service” (DDoS) attack that triggered internet outages worldwide.
If you value your privacy and security, step cautiously into this new world. Avoid smart devices altogether, unless you’re willing to take rigorous security precautions.
Fortunately, you can still purchase “dumb” non-internet-connected home appliances. For instance, here’s a link to a non-internet-connected thermostat. And if you’re not ready to install smart devices in your home, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to stock up on dumb ones while they’re still available.