Do you trust your smart devices?

It might be hard to imagine a time when you couldn’t ask your phone to check the train times for you just by issuing a voice command or when you couldn’t turn your heating on without being in the house.

Smart devices – things that are connected to other devices or networks via wireless – are everywhere and have become part of our everyday lives. Some of us might even live in ‘smart homes’, where the lighting, heating, sound systems, etc. can be controlled remotely by phones or computers.

However, the question is ‘do you trust your smart devices?’

A smart device threat?

Ok, so while we might not be about to witness a scenario where intelligent devices take over the world (your vacuum cleaner isn’t going to be running the country anytime soon, don’t worry), smart devices can pose a security threat.

Just like desktop computers or laptops, smart devices can be vulnerable to viruses and hackers. In fact, they’re arguably more vulnerable because whilst we remember to put anti-virus on our computers, we often don’t keep up-to-date with updates on our other devices, such as smart phones. It is these updates that provide the patches and other fixes to keep the device secure, so if we’re not running the latest update, we may be at risk.

Paul Haskell Dowland, cyber security expert at Edith Cowan University, claims there is a particular threat when it comes to voice-enabled speakers. Speaking to ABC News, he explained that because devices like Google Home and Amazon Alexa constantly record sound to help them recognise their owner’s voice, theoretically these recordings could be retrieved by hackers and used as blackmail. What’s more, lots of people don’t even realise that their recordings are being stored on the internet, thanks to complicated terms and conditions, according to Haskell Dowland.1

To trust or not to trust?

While – like most forms of modern technology – there is a security risk associated with smart devices, if you’re careful, there’s no reason why you can’t continue to use your favourite devices happily.

Some simple things you can do to protect yourself include:-

  • Always download security updates onto your device. This doesn’t just mean updating your smartphone – you need to keep up-to-date with your other devices too.
  • Be smart with your passwords. Passphrases that are hard to guess are always a good idea, such as 1<3mIdG. You should also have different passwords for different devices, so if one passwords does fall into the wrong hands, all of your devices won’t be vulnerable. Another top tip is to change any passwords that were already on a device when you purchased it to a personal one.
  • Use different networks. If you set up a ‘guest’ network on your router for your smart devices, if they do fall prey to hackers, your computer and mobile devices are unlikely to be affected.

To help keep Brits safe when they’re using smart devices, the UK government is also introducing new measures that require manufactures to build protection for smart devices that last the lifetime of the product.

Margot James, Minister for Digital and Creative Industries, said: “We want everyone to benefit from the huge potential of internet-connected devices and it is important they are safe and have a positive impact on people’s lives. We have worked alongside industry to develop a tough new set of rules so strong security measures are built into everyday technology from the moment it is developed.”2

Some areas where improvements are likely to be seen include:-

  • Easier ways to delete personal data on devices and products
  • Encrypted data if sensitive information has to be transmitted over apps or products
  • Automatic updates and clear guidance on updates for customers

These measures, alongside a few others, may – hopefully – help to protect smart devices from hackers.

If you’re worried about falling prey to a hack

Regularly check your credit report, alongside your bank statement, to monitor for suspicious activity that could be a sign of identity theft or fraud. To find out more, click here.

1http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-20/google-homeamazon-tech-devices-threat-to-personal-data/9273550

2 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-measures-to-boost-cyber-security-in-millions-of-internet-connected-devices