Imagine this terrifying scenario:
You’re driving down the road, minding your own business, when you suddenly lose control of your vehicle. It’s your autonomous parking assist system. Without your input, the steering wheel starts turning, threatening to crash your car. Quickly, you struggle to hold the wheel in place and maneuver over to the side of the road, where you can park the car and try to figure out what just went wrong.
Was it a simple malfunction? Or worse, was it a hacker? It may sound crazy, but as a recent article on Wired notes, the latter scenario is rare, but not unthinkable. Many high-end cars are equipped with high-tech, internet-connected systems for navigation and entertainment. These can technically be exploited to grant access to other systems within cars, such as transmission.
The vast majority of consumers probably still won’t have to worry about someone remotely taking control of their vehicles. However, as more and more of our most common tools, appliances and household items become connected to the internet, we will have to think about keeping them secure. The Internet of Things has many benefits to offer, but it also presents many different security risks that must be addressed – including not just those related to functionality, but also data privacy.
Data privacy in the era of constant connection
Even if you have an older car, you may already have some smart devices elsewhere in your home. The growing preponderance of smartphones has increased the popularity of Web-connected thermostats, home lighting and other appliances. Using little more than an app, we can access these features no matter where we are.
But so, it seems, can hackers. The FBI believes that any device with a Wi-Fi connection can be compromised – especially if it is unsecured or uses a default password.
Of course, you might be thinking, a smart appliance isn’t a car. A hacker who gains control of your vehicle might be able to run you off the road, but one who accesses your smart thermostat can only make the temperature in your home uncomfortable. How is this a threat?
According to the FBI, there can be a surprisingly direct link between hacking a smart device’s function and access a home network.
“The rapid development and adoption of new Web-connected smart devices is drastically increasing the cyberthreat landscape that businesses and consumers must now face each day,” John Iannarelli, former assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Phoenix division, told the Identity Theft Resource Center. He added that smart devices “present unique security risks to consumers.”
“For example, if a hacker gains access to your smart refrigerator, it could serve as a conduit to any other device connected to your home network, such as your home security system or personal computer,” Iannarelli said.
From there, a dedicated hacker could, in theory, collect personal data from your network that he or she could then use to steal your identity.
Be proactive to protect your data
Consumers aren’t going to give up their gadgets. We all love the convenience that they bring into our lives. But it is important to for everyone to take action to protect themselves against potential data breaches. An identity theft protection service, like Identity Guard, can help by monitoring your credit files, Social Security Number and public records, and alerting you to certain activity that could indicate fraud.