Are 'smart' devices smart enough to thwart cybercrime?

Users beware: hackers can gain access to your internet network and take control of the smart device it is connected to

Attendees use laptop computers as Lego A/S toybricks sit on a desk in the Hackathon area at the Bosch Internet of Things (IoT) conference, in Berlin, Germany, on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. Bosch raked in record profit and revenue last year and foresees more growth in 2018 even as the German auto-parts giant wrestles with weakness in the scandal-beset diesel segment that might be compounded by controversial air-quality tests on monkeys. Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg
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Six tips to secure your smart home

Most smart home devices are controlled via the owner's smartphone. Therefore, if you are using public wi-fi on your phone, always use a VPN (virtual private network) that offers strong security features and anonymises your internet connection.

Keep your smart home devices’ software up-to-date. Device makers often send regular updates - follow them without fail as they could provide protection from a new security risk.

Use two-factor authentication so that in addition to a password, your identity is authenticated by a second sign-in step like a code sent to your mobile number.

Set up a separate guest network for acquaintances and visitors to ensure the privacy of your IoT devices’ network.

Change the default privacy and security settings of your IoT devices to take extra steps to secure yourself and your home.

Always give your router a unique name, replacing the one generated by the manufacturer, to ensure a hacker cannot ascertain its make or model number.

Remote start-up of your washing machine, monitoring your home while sitting in the office or tracking your dog through a connected collar seem like 2019-appropriate things to do - but not if they also extend an invitation to cyber criminals.

Technology giant Cisco estimates that the number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices – the core to "smart" living - will be three times as high as the UN's predicted 8 billion global population by 2021. The consumer segment is the largest of connected devices with 5.2 billion units in 2017, representing 63 per cent of the overall number of applications in use, according to Gartner research.

Gartner expects IoT security-related spending to reach almost $3.1 billion by 2021. Hewlett-Packard, meanwhile, said that 70 per cent of IoT devices are vulnerable to hacking.

Here, The National considers the vulnerability of smart devices used in homes.

Criminals controlling your home

By using botnets, which are networks of computers carrying malicious software, hackers can gain access to a victim’s internet network and take control of the smart device it is connected to.

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For example, from an IoT-connected front door, criminals can collect information about a victim’s routine – when he or she is leaving for work, coming back and going out again, for example – and predict their future movements. They can also control sensor settings and deactivate anti-theft alarm systems.

5G adding to vulnerability

In the coming months, more 5G-enabled IoT devices will connect directly to the network rather than via a Wi-Fi router – a trend that will make those devices more exposed to direct cyberattacks.

“For home users, it will also make it more difficult to monitor all IoT devices since they bypass a central router,” said Hugh Thompson, chief technology officer at Symantec, a California-based software firm.

More broadly, the ability to back-up or transmit vast volumes of data easily to cloud-based storage will give attackers rich new targets to attack, added Mr Thompson.

System hijacking

By compromising a single smart device, hackers can gain control over all other connected devices at home. They can even change passwords, restrict the use of devices and corrupt all the hardware. In most cases, a victim is unable to detect the compromised device because it continues to appear to function normally.

Identity theft

Users can tell devices such as Amazon’s Alexa to turn on the TV, ask Google Assistant to pay for a meal or book an Uber ride, direct Apple's Siri to get weather reports and even get menu texts translated by Samsung’s Bixby. But data generated from unprotected devices exposes victim’s personal information like credit card details and confidential passwords.

Six tips to secure your smart home

Most smart home devices are controlled via the owner's smartphone. Therefore, if you are using public wi-fi on your phone, always use a VPN (virtual private network) that offers strong security features and anonymises your internet connection.

Keep your smart home devices’ software up-to-date. Device makers often send regular updates - follow them without fail as they could provide protection from a new security risk.

Use two-factor authentication so that in addition to a password, your identity is authenticated by a second sign-in step like a code sent to your mobile number.

Set up a separate guest network for acquaintances and visitors to ensure the privacy of your IoT devices’ network.

Change the default privacy and security settings of your IoT devices to take extra steps to secure yourself and your home.

Always give your router a unique name, replacing the one generated by the manufacturer, to ensure a hacker cannot ascertain its make or model number.

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