Are you considering purchasing a new smart gadget?
You’ll be in good company if you do. The Online Trust Alliance estimates that as many as 50 million such devices were sold during the 2015 holiday season, and they show no sign of losing their popularity. From smart TVs to home automation systems, consumers are excited to get their hands on the latest Internet-connected technologies.
But while the latest smart devices have the potential to make our day-to-day lives easier and better, they also bring with them serious security risks that many consumers may not yet be aware of. If you don’t take proper precautions, you may be unwittingly inviting identity thieves into your home.
Widening holes in the privacy wall
Even though many smart gadgets, such as new smart home appliances, are capable of more than ever before thanks to Internet connectivity, consumers don’t always realize how these connections can be exploited.
It happens more often than people think. For instance, in 2014 Proofpoint reported on a massive incident in which hackers gained control of nearly 100,000 connected devices and used them to send more than 750,000 malicious emails. Many of these devices were home network routers and multimedia centers. Some were not what the typical person thinks of as sending email — there were several smart TVs, and, according to the report, at least one refrigerator.
The problem was that the devices either did not come equipped with security measures, or the owners did not know how to use them. A large number were still secured with the default password, making it fairly easy for a dedicated hacker to take control.
Customers must learn to protect themselves
“While people are aware that they need to have security on their connected devices, they don’t always take the necessary steps to protect themselves,” Brian Witten, Senior Director of IoT at Symantec, recently told the Online Trust Alliance. “Until device manufacturers build security into their products, the responsibility relies with the consumer.”
First, it’s important to do your research to ensure that the smart device you are considering purchasing is equipped with strong security features. Many companies have different policies regarding data sharing with third parties, and it is important for you to understand who might see your information, and how easy it will be for them to get it. It may be a good idea to turn off this information sharing, if possible.
Second, learn about a product’s patch history and determine whether you should expect additional patches in the future. Frequent updates are how product manufacturers maintain the security of their devices. Without enough attention, these smart devices could become vulnerable to serious security issues.
Finally, educate yourself about Internet security. If your smart device requires a password — as most home routers do — make sure that it is a strong one. Relying on the default password is no better than going without a password altogether, as anyone can look up the default used by that particular manufacturer.
Be prepared for when identity theft strikes
No matter how many precautions you take, there is still a chance that a thief will find a way to compromise your identity. They could potentially create financial accounts in your name and steal thousands of dollars, leaving you in debt and with ruined credit.
The sooner you act, the better. This is why it is important to think proactively about your personal information. In addition to keeping up to date with security updates, invest in an identity theft protection service which can monitor your credit file, Social Security Number and public records, and alert you to certain activity that could be indicative of fraud.