The internet has grown in leaps and bounds since it first came to be. For something that started as a basic tool for checking stuff online, as well as sending and receiving messages, we cannot but laud what the world has now made of it.
Today, we can now stream videos online like we were watching them on our traditional TVs. It is even much easier to buy stuff from another country without having to take a plane there ourselves. All that, and we have not even mentioned the possibility of remote work.
Perhaps one of the greatest and newest additions to the use of the world wide web is found in the concept of Internet of Things.
What is Internet of Things (IoT)?
Dubbed IoT for short, Internet of Things is a canopy of operation under which different devices and everyday items work with each other, staying in sync under the influence of the internet.
It is the technology that allows for better reach and control of what used to be independent devices, improving the way they interact with each other to make our lives better and easier.
If you are still thinking this is something that we pulled out of a science fiction book, it is because you have not given it much thought. In fact, IoT is around you more than you know, and there is a high chance you are even employing this technology to make everyday tasks better, faster and easier.
What are common examples of IoT?
Almost everyone reading this post should have come across a smartwatch before. Be it one of the Apple Watch series, their Samsung derivatives or production from any other brand, these watches are more than your regular everyday watches.
They can do as much as take pictures, record videos, measure your heartbeat and gently diagnose certain problems in the body. Almost all of them will allow you pick your calls and manage your messages without having to lift your phone.
On top of all that, they still remain functional in how they tell the time. Speaking of, you get to download different watch faces – helping you transform the watch to whatever you like at any time.
If that example looks too stretched, another one is of printers.
There was a time when you would have to walk all the way to a printer if you wanted to get a document in hard copy. In addition to that, there needed to be a host of wires involved. Furthermore, that printer would only work with one device at once – the one it is currently connected to.
For those who work in modern offices, chances are you didn’t even meet this printer there.
The world is now used to printers that can be connected to the internet over a Wi-Fi network. Rather that connecting one computer at once, all computers in the workplace can be connected to this single printer by simply being on the same Wi-Fi connection as it.
To print files, you only have to send them over the wi-fi connection and the printer handles it for you.
There are so much more common examples, but you get it already.
How can IoT be dangerous for users?
Before launching into the dangers of IoT, a little background on how they work is necessary.
For those who followed both examples above, you will notice that the IoT ecosystem is one that relies on the internet to work. As the name implies, all the device required to work together have to be connected to an internet connection so they can interact with each other.
That is where the flaw comes in.
1 Lack of Security Protocol
A lot of IoT device manufacturers skip basic encryption practices so as to make the setup of their devices easier. While this is great from the user’s point of view, it is very bad from a security standpoint.
It is even poorer that many users don’t feel the need to reset their passwords, and their devices don’t come with prompts to make them do so. While there is a high danger from not setting secure passwords in the first place, not changing your passwords frequently could cause a bigger problem.
2 Linkage to other units
Another flaw with IoT is that the chain is as weak as the weakest device in the link. Since all the units have to connect to the same internet network, every unit is a potential backdoor into the other.
A dedicated hacker could simply target the least secured device on the network and from there, gain access to the others. There is no telling what they can decide to do from there.
3 Data mining and theft
Many people have their IoT devices connected for several hours in a day. In a way, these devices can see the stream of data from every other unit on that network. Thus, your smartwatch has access to the data on your phone due to the permissions you have granted it.
Thus, should the smartwatch get hacked, it can lead to more data theft on your phone and every other unit you have linked to the same network.
In this age, data is worth more than you know. Should someone gain access to, say, your bank login details, we don’t need to tell you where that train leads.
What should you do?
It would be wrong if we recommended staying off IoT devices in general. That could be one solution but you would just be delaying the inevitable. Afterall, there is bound to be more than 28 million connected devices in the world by the year 2022 alone.
Likewise, there is no doubting how much this technology is bettering our lives. Imagine your refrigerator being able to order your milk/ groceries when you start to run low, or maybe even setting your meal plan according to your preferences. Imagine being able to go far away and monitor your home via cameras embedded around the house – and much more.
Now that we have established the fact that staying away is not an option, here is how to stay safe while getting the best out of IoT:
- Purchase from trusted manufacturers – Nearly everyone is making a smartwatch or any other smart device today. Some of these are nameless companies that you have not heard about before now. That is usually one red flag to avoid. When purchasing a connected device, make sure it is from a supplier with a track record of user privacy and data security.
- Update your apps – Many IoT frameworks come with dedicated apps to run certain units in the home/ office/ anywhere else you might have installed your connected devices. Whenever there is a notification update, don’t hesitate to attend to it. Chances are that the developer/ manufacturer has found a vulnerability in the app and they are sending the update to quash those bugs.
- Limit access of IoT apps – More on the apps, make sure none of them has access to more than what they need to work. In other words, don’t grant a video camera app access to your messages and contacts. After getting access to your camera and microphone, it has no business with other parts of your data. Should an attack happen on such an app, the damages will be limited to only what it has access to, protecting other parts of your data.
- Secure your connection – Another great solution is to secure your internet connection. An encrypted network protects all the devices connected to it, making it impossible/ rather difficult to hack and steal your information.
The best way to go about such network-wide encryption is to embrace a VPN. You can download a VPN specially designed for your Android device, iOS units, router or any other source of the connection you are sharing with the connected units.
- Isolate devices – This is important advice for people running a lot of smart devices. Try to isolate the devices, connecting only a couple of them to a single network.
Spreading your units over multiple networks will make it less possible for a hacker to gain access to your entire system. You can, thus, easily shut down one part of the network when you notice a breach without having to disrupt the entire setup.
If IoT did not pose a security threat, the FBI would not have gotten in on the matter. While this technology brings a lot of promise with it, the onus lies on you to stay protected while enjoying one of the many wonders of the internet as we now know it.