Are IoT devices a bigger security risk than we think?

Alex Sheehan
Alex Sheehan
Sep 18, 2019

Technology is exciting. We’re more connected than ever before, and things we thought impossible not long ago have become part of everyday reality.

But with all that Internet of Things (IoT) excitement also comes potential risk.

Below, we’ll take a look at IoT security and how you can protect your devices and yourself.

What are IoT devices?

IoT devices are any item that has the ability to connect to and share data with a network or another item. It might sound high-tech, but you likely have more than one IoT device in sight right now. You’re probably even using an IoT device to read this content (unless you’ve printed this on paper). According to some estimates, there are nearly 27 billion IoT devices in the world.

What are some examples of IoT devices? Smartphones, computers, tablets, smart thermostats, connected irrigation, smart cars, video cameras, drones, jet engines, connected light bulbs … the list goes on and on.

Can there be IoT security issues?

Because IoT devices connect with others and transmit data back and forth, this also makes them prone to potential digital security threats.

Potential IoT security threats

Wondering why IoT security is important? Take a look at potential risks to get an idea:

  • Outbound spam – Ever get a weird Facebook message or email, seemingly from someone you know? It could be spam. Unprotected devices make you prone to spam “takeovers,” which send out messages on your behalf. Back in 2014, for example, a connected refrigerator was hacked and started sending spam via email.
  • Botnets – An IoT botnet is a network of devices that have been hacked and connected to one another. Hackers do this to share data between devices without the owners knowing. They administer distributed-denial-of-server (DDoS) attacks, which is what hackers do to attack and take out servers. A 21-year-old from Washington, along with two co-conspirators, created the notorious Satori botnet which launched several DDoS attacks throughout 2017 and 2018.
  • Data leaks – With so much data being shared, this opens the possibility of that information being compromised. This includes passwords, personal information and even your physical location. (Luckily, there ways you can protect your online identity from these types of threats.)
  • Home “intrusions”According to one report, more than 40% of homes have at least one device that’s vulnerable to hackers. If hackers get into one device, they can access every other device sharing the same network. This gives them access to information you’d want to keep private, like your IP address, which can reveal your physical address. They can also spy on your internet activity, getting potential access to credit card and other sensitive information.
  • Vehicle takeover – Connected cars are more prone to auto theft. Hackers can control your car, see your driving habits and monitor your internet activity. Two hackers, for example, developed a way to hack into a connected Jeep and virtually drive it off the road.

Beyond hackers, companies that make IoT devices can also sneak in user permissions and agreements to sharing data with marketers and advertisers. While this might not technically be an IoT security risk, it can be considered a breach of privacy. Not to mention creepy!

So, how secure are IoT devices?

It really depends, both on the device and how you use it.

Are there some IoT security tips?

Luckily, there are IoT security measures you can take to beef up your protection:

  • Use strong passwords – “123456” is the most common password in the world. If you use that, you’re an easy target for any individual. It is your first line of defense, after all. Create strong, unique passwords, with a combination of letters, numbers and special characters (when allowed), to mitigate your vulnerability.
  • Install security software – Security apps and software programs can protect your devices from harmful malware, ransomware, viruses and other online threats.
  • Download reputable apps and programs – As tempting as it might be to adopt new technologies and trends, it’s best to make sure your discoveries are reputable. Another tip? Read the privacy policy to see how they’ll use your info.
  • Set your privacy and data preferences – Many devices have their own unique IoT security settings you can adjust to make sure you’re protecting yourself. Only share the data that seems necessary, and deny overreaching permissions.
  • Change your IP address – You can browse via a virtual private network (VPN) which will disguise your device location by changing your IP address. Instead of browsing on a vulnerable public network, this makes it more difficult for hackers to know where you are and access your tech.
  • Mind your devices – It may seem silly and minor, but something as simple as leaving your phone unattended at the pool or coffee bar can be a risk. It makes you susceptible to curious minds around you — potentially with bad intentions.

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