Privacy in the Age of the Internet of Things
By Mike Koclanes
You may have recently heard about something called the Internet of Things. Or you may not have—according to Forbes, 87% of people have not heard of the Internet of Things. So, what exactly is the Internet of Things (IoT)? Well, it’s just that—it’s things that also happen to be known as Smart Connected Products. It’s TVs, cars, baby monitors, thermostats, light bulbs and home security systems. Except, in the age of the IoT all of these things are connected to the internet. Forgot to turn down the thermostat when you left the house for work? No problem, just lower it using the app on your phone. Want to change the color of your lighting based on your mood or a festive occasion without figuring out complicated wiring? No problem, just use an app to change it. These devices even track data and are self-learning so that thermostat you forgot to turn off knows to lower the temperature around 8:30 AM—when you leave the house—and readjusts back up at 6:15 PM—right before you get home. You could probably argue that the future is here.
Yet, as with all new developments, new challenges have shown up. People are wondering—does IoT herald the beginning of a 1984-like era where everything we do is watched and tracked? What role does privacy play in all this? These concerns over privacy are not unfounded. There are multiple instances of IoT security breaches—baby monitors that can be hacked to monitor live feeds, cars that can be targeted and shut down, and even infiltration of medical items that can have fatal consequences.
So does that mean we should steer clear of IoT? No, many of these things seriously improve the quality of life. What it does mean is that we should be aware of security risks, take personal steps to address them, and be up-to-date on initiatives to improve IoT security. And there are a lot of initiatives. IoT security is a prominent concern, even at the government level. Leading tech firms have come together to create the Internet of Things Security Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to secure the IoT and maximize its benefits. Notable publications have provided input to companies on how to secure data.
At a personal level, there are certain steps you can take to be aware of and maintain your privacy in the age of IoT. Keep your IoT devices up-to-date, and use a strong password for your Wi-Fi router. You can also remain cyber aware by taking the time to understand what data is being collected and how it is being managed and used—always read the terms and conditions before agreeing to them. And of course, do your research before adopting new devices that have the potential for unintended listening. It is also critical to guard your privacy by adopting secure and private messaging habits so should you experience a hack, your most important information such as social security number, codes and passwords remain protected. Be aware of unusual devices that might be added onto your desktop and utilize the resources that protect your privacy so that you can take advantage of technological advances while staying safe.