Time to Learn Pig Latin, Your Devices Are Listening
By: Shaun Murphy, CEO of PrivateGiant
While it’s convenient to turn lights on, lock doors, check humidity levels and monitor energy use in your home with your smartphone, those conveniences come at a cost; even something as seemingly harmless as monitoring calorie burn with a connected device can lead to a breach. Billion dollar companies are having a hard time shielding themselves against hackers, insider threats and data leakage, let alone a single device in your home.
When you register devices and tie them to your email account and address you are opening that information up to be invaded. Additionally, fitness trackers are revealing whether you have met your goals, coffee pots are recording how quickly you go through your favorite brew and thermostats are recording what time of day you are home. All of this information is valuable to companies because it can be sold to other businesses that can customize ads to fit the data you are inadvertently feeding them. Even the FTC has expressed concerns over what the Internet of Things will mean for the future of privacy and security.
Many Americans are turning to high-tech watches and other types of devices to help keep track of weight loss, compete with friends to meet fitness goals, or to just track overall health goals. But, these devices disclose quite a bit about users’ lives and habits to less than savory people. Including people who want to know when you’re away from your house, maybe insurance companies that want to increase your rates, and even hackers who want to sell data about you. Be cautions, HIPPA does not apply to fitness tracker devices so do not link them to your social media sites and do not give out personal information when setting up an account. In fact, to be cautious it is best to use a fake name for your user profile rather than your full given name so you are less vulnerable for hackers or other nefarious characters to find and track.
Protection Tip: Some fitness trackers ask users to fill out registration forms and ask for information like full name and address. All the device really needs to know is a user’s gender, age and weight. Do not provide any personally identifying information beyond the medical necessities.
Filling a home with devices that can anticipate needs and be controlled by a smartphone from anywhere is extremely convenient, but this luxury comes with a price. Voice controlled appliances like televisions and gaming consoles eliminate the need for a remote or getting off the couch, but the thing to keep in mind is they are always listening. Consider the house bugged and any conversation fair game for a hacker. Internet controlled thermostats and other appliances can also be an opportunity for a hacker to access data. The software on your phone that you use to control these devices could be vulnerable to attacks and be the portal that opens all the data you have on your phone to a thief.
Protection Tip: It can be more difficult to protect privacy in a connected home because connected devices must always be connected to the Internet. The issue to be concerned about is if something happens to a device the owner’s address is instantly known. To avoid this, when setting up a connected device do not provide a specific address, just a rough identifier like a street name but no house number. Before or after buying a connected device look into how sharing features or microphone listening features can be disabled. Or if that isn’t possible put the device on a surge protector and switch it off when not in use so companies can’t record a bank pin number given on a phone call or other sensitive information.
Overall, when deciding to purchase a product that falls under the Internet of Things category, consumers need to weight the pros and cons. While having the ability to wave a smartphone at a reader to make purchases or rely on a refrigerator to remind you to buy milk when you are at the grocery store may make life easier in the moment, what is the cost? The more you allow your devices to take over responsibilities, the more access points you create into your life for companies and criminals alike. While it isn’t necessary to avoid connected devices altogether, because they do have many benefits, consumers do need to make smart decisions about when, where and how they allow devices to share information about them.
About Shaun Murphy
Shaun Murphy is one of the nation’s leading experts in communication security with over 20 years experience in the industry. Shaun worked as a subject matter expert on high-level government communications software and hardware systems for numerous agencies. Now, Shaun has dedicated his life to developing technology solutions for the average consumer. His mission is to create a protected communications platform in a world where privacy has almost ceased to exist. Shaun earned his Bachelors of Science in Computer Engineering from the University of Central Florida. He also holds a Masters of Computer Science from Florida Tec with a concentration in pattern recognition and machine learning in communication systems.