How do we stay smarter than our smart home devices?

Robots are on the rise, at least statistically speaking.

According to ABI Research, almost 79 million homes will contain a connected device in the house by 2024, with the US market volume reaching $23.5 billion in 2019. The growing popularity of smart home tech will only add to consumers’ willingness to embrace this technology even further and rely on it, while sharing private information with multiple companies and giving them uninterrupted access to their homes. Even though 63% of people describe connected devices as somewhat ‘creepy’ and 75% do not trust them with their data, an astonishing 70% state that they own or plan to own at least one connected device. 

The good news? It’s difficult to argue with the statement that connected devices do already enrich our lives and will continue to do so more impressively in the near and distant future. The not-so-great news? IoT manufacturers really need to step up their cybersecurity game. Many are already working tirelessly to do so, but as many are pretty much starting from scratch, they have their work cut out for them. 

With more than half of companies failing to require third-party security and privacy compliance, it’s no surprise that in the past couple of years we’ve seen connected device data breaches almost double, going from 15% to 26%. Furthermore, some of these incidents encroached on peoples’ privacy in a very alarming way. Remember when Amazon’s Alexa recorded a private conversation and sent the content to a user’s random contact? Or when we’ve learned that our BFF, Roomba’s iRobot, can actually map our homes and share this information

But with incredible devices like smart thermostats that can save us money – and even save our lives by turning off the stove if it’s on for too long – giving up on IoT because of its cybersecurity flaws is not an option. Instead, we have to learn how to live alongside these gadgets successfully and safely.  

Why are connected devices such fair game for hackers?

Let’s first try and understand what it is about connected devices that appeals to hackers so much. Here are some of the notable reasons that make IoT technology an attractive target for data thieves:

  • Hackers recognise that IoT technologies are relatively new, which means that many of them still lack substantial security measures. 
  • Because many have shared vulnerabilities, one connected device can easily lead hackers to another, enabling them to collect more personal data that completes the picture for identity theft purposes. 
  • The media and the public adore anecdotes that are related to IoT data leaks, and hackers enjoy some “anonymous publicity” just like anyone else. 

You take the good, you take the bad 

Despite the above reasons, IoT data problems are not much different to the plethora of other data privacy issues that involve consumers’ personal information. In a way, what happens here is simply a more visible format of the same issue, which makes it easier to comprehend, but therefore also to solve. When we fill out an online form and that data finds its way into the wrong hands, we struggle to understand how this happened. When a hacker breaks into our bank account through our smart vacuum cleaner, we have a clearer mental map. 

The solution, as always, is not to shy away from new technologies or devices, but to use them in a controlled manner that works for us, not against us. We couldn’t refrain from using IoT devices anyway, and insisting on doing so will only make us good candidates for a tin foil hat. Instead, we need to figuratively gather all devices in one place and manage their access to data responsibly. This, combined with manufacturers’ efforts to figure out new ways of preventing hackers from easily accessing smart home gadgets, should do the trick and bring significant improvements to the cybersecurity of this sector.   

Growing consumer demands help move things in the right direction. A recent study by Karamba Security found that almost 75% of IoT consumers expect manufacturers to provide adequate protection from hacks, which is a great sign. By improving the products on one hand and our data ownership and management capabilities on the other, as well as promoting awareness and public debate around the issue, we are sure to see major progress very soon. With a little bit of work by all parties, smart devices will use their intelligence almost entirely to our benefit. And so, as you unbox another smart device, study not only its manual to find the greatest features, but also its security level and data management options. Not sure where to find those? You can visit sites like Mine to learn more, or ask your smart fridge. It probably knows.  

About the Author

Gal Ringel, CEO and co-founder of Mine. Mine empowers people worldwide to become owners of their personal data without compromising their online experience. Mine’s AI-based platform enables every digital user to discover, understand and effectively manage what the internet knows about them – their digital footprint. All done through a simple, easy to use, mobile web-based app.

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