Nothing stands still in the digital age. If you thought connecting communications devices such as laptops, tablets and smartphones wasn’t smart enough, we now have the Internet of Things (IoT). Once you get past the cool sounding name, what do you get?
IoT has made its way into homes via smart kitchen appliances, home security and energy saving products that are hard to resist. We all love gadgets that make our lives simpler and gives us more control such as the ability to switch the oven on remotely, or controling the central heating thermostat from your phone or even lock and unlocking the front door while you’re out is, well, cool.
According to recent figures, there will be nearly 20.8 billion IoT devices by 2020. In addition to consumer products, IoT is finding applications in environmental monitoring, infrastructure management, manufacturing, medical and healthcare, transportation, building and home automation, energy management and town planning. From smart electricity meters to electronic toll collection systems, remote health monitoring devices to tsunami early warning systems, IoT seems to be reaching parts other technologies cannot reach.
What’s behind the emerging devices is digital technology – it’s a computer but not as we know it. Unlike traditional computing platforms such as the familiar ones used by PCs and Macs, for instance, IoT devices run on new, proprietary, dedicated firmware. With all the benefits of IoT comes a greater element of risk, as more connected devices means hackers and cyber criminals now have more entry points.
So, how secure are these devices? Could your personal or financial data be compromised through a smart device that has insufficient internet security protection? It’s prudent to take precautionary measure to help you stay safe on the internet. Trust is good, control is better, as the saying goes.
1. Protect your home Wi-Fi
The beauty of many smart devices is that they can be operated via Wi-Fi so you don’t have to plug them into your computer or smartphone every time you wish to use them. In order to protect your home Wi-Fi from a security breach coming from a smart device, check your router and see if it will allow you to create a separate guest networks to keep untrusted visitors away from your regular network. If there is such an option, create a special guest network for your smart ‘things’ and connect them there.
2. Choose good passwords
For the sake of the continued integrity of your private data, always follow the maxim: one device, one password. Choose a unique password for each device and write it down if necessary. The best passwords are complex, using a string of at least 8 letters, numbers and other symbols and no dictionary words or personal information. Many IoT devices have shown vulnerabilities that let hackers trick you into leaking security information, including divulging your Wi-Fi password. Be vigilant.
3. Turn of Universal Plug and Play (UPnP)
Some devices, notably video cameras, communicate to the router via inbound holes. Accepting connections from outside make it easier to access them from the web, but also less secure. By turning off UPnP on your router and smart devices, you can prevent them from being exposed.
4. Keep firmware up to date
Just as you must keep all your computer software up to date for maximum internet security, you should apply the same rigour to your IoT devices. And while it can be a royal pain in the proverbial to check available updates for every device on the manufacturer’s website, it’s as important to do as your twice yearly smoke alarm battery check – and can probably do as much damage.
5. Avoid Cloud based services
Exercise caution when it comes to IoT devices that require permanent access to the Cloud in order to work. Cloud reliant devices are often not as secure and can potentially divulge more information than ‘things’ you can control from your home. Ideally, try the smart device out on your home network before you allow access to the Cloud.
6. Use only what you need
Where possible, switch off unnecessary internet connections that you don’t use. Do you really need internet access if all you use your smart TV for is to watch broadcast television? No, you don’t. And if you use the TV to stream from your home network, does it need access to an outside network? No, it doesn’t.
7. Don’t take and IoT device to work
Finally, don’t be tempted to connect any of your IoT devices to your work network without express permission. If a hacking attack into the organisation can be traced back to a security breach from your device, it could put your employer – and your job! – at serious risk.