The Benefits and Security Risks of the Internet of Things

The benefits & security risks of IoT_header

The Internet of Things (IoT) is revolutionizing our everyday lives.

The term Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the interconnection of uniquely identifiable devices within the existing Internet infrastructure. In more simple terms, it’s an environment where Internet-connected devices and sensors communicate with each other to perform a designated task. The end result is automation, efficiency, safety, and convenience- just to name a few.

By 2020, the IoT ecosystem will expand to 212 billion connected ‘things’ and expected to be a $8.9 trillion market. So it’s no doubt IoT devices will integrate into our daily lives. But as consumers are increasingly drawn to the conveniences and benefits of IoT devices, most are unaware of the security risks.

IoT Devices and their Benefits
IoT devices are designed to help consumers save money, reduce energy, and eliminate some hassles of everyday life, among other benefits. Here are a few examples of IoT devices and the benefits they deliver.

Nest, which Google recently acquired, manufactures a home thermostat that studies your heating and cooling trends then automatically adjusts the temperature based on your patterns. The thermostat relies on an Internet connection to gather and analyze usage data, and it can be controlled by a smartphone app.

Smart refrigerators are another IoT example. A smart refrigerator is designed to help you more efficiently manage food purchases. Instead of wondering if you have enough eggs for tonight’s meal, or whether you need to stop by the grocery store for more, through a smartphone app, your smart refrigerator helps you keep track of what you have and what you need to purchase.

Door Locks
Smart door locks promise to eliminate the need for keys. By linking up with the smart lock with your smartphone, you can be notified when specific people go in or out of your home. Additionally, you can grant access to friends and family through a digital ‘key’ even if you’re away from your home.

Medical Devices
The IoT is expected to greatly transform the healthcare industry in improving the doctor-patient relationship. With the use of IoT medical devices, a doctor could remotely monitor a patient and run a diagnosis in real-time. Or, should a patient experience a sudden and abnormal increase in heart rate, medical professions could immediately be dispatched to offer appropriate aid to the patient.

The Security Risks with IoT Devices
As with any Internet-connected device, IoT appliances and gadgets have potential security vulnerabilities. Here are a few incidents:

In a January 2014 global IoT cyber-attack, hackers compromised more than 100,000 everyday consumer smart devices and used the devices to launch more than 750,000 malicious email communications in an attempt to expand the size of their botnet. Some of these IoT devices include smart TVs, wireless speaker systems, network routers, and even refrigerators.

Earlier this year, U.K. researchers demonstrated how security vulnerabilities in WiFi connected light bulbs could be exploited to control all the connected bulbs on a home network—and to expose the user’s network configurations.

More recently, an August 2014 study from Hewlett-Packard found that 70 percent of all IoT devices are vulnerable to being hacked or compromised. The study examined 10 smart devices such as thermostats, webcams, and smart TVs and found that each had about 25 potential vulnerabilities.

What You Can Do
• Examine the privacy policies and security features of any new smart gadget or appliance before you buy it. If you don’t understand the privacy or security features, contact the manufacturer. Many device makers offer Web chat with tech support or customer service reps.

• Look for software tools designed to protect your personal data and privacy across the Internet. One tool is MyPermissions, which offers free Android and iOS apps as well as a browser toolbar. MyPermissions alerts you when an app gains access to your personal information and will prompt you to revoke or accept the permission.

• Keep your devices updated with the latest software, as the updates may include new security patches.

• Consider putting your home’s connected devices behind a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This can require a home network router with custom firmware, so the job may be best configured by someone with advanced networking skills.

• It’s also important to secure your PC with adequate firewall and antivirus protection. In the event your IoT device is compromised by malware, your PC could be infected since it is on the same network.

The Key Step: Awareness
Many of us know there are threats when we go connect through the Internet with our devices. However, only few of us have been conditioned to think about the potential threats when using an Internet-connected thermostat, refrigerator, or other device. In our increasingly networked world, awareness of the potential risks is the first step toward protecting yourself.

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