We’re in the middle of a full-fledged revolution in technology. Since the birth of the Internet, we’ve been privy to a host of major landmark changes in the way we exchange information (and live our lives), from Wi-Fi to smartphones capable of mobile browsing. Now, we’re seeing the dawn of more diverse smart devices, from televisions to refrigerators and stoves, and we’re beginning to connect them all together in shared systems in a technology known as the Internet of Things (IoT).
It’s all very exciting, and futuristic, but there could be some serious threats associated with IoT technology when we start to adopt it as consumers. These are a few of the most important ones we need to consider:
- Interconnectivity. One of the biggest advantages of IoT technology is also one of its biggest weaknesses: its local network-based connectivity between devices. The idea is to have a centralized system of different devices, such as your thermostat, refrigerator, television, smartphone, and tablet, all working in close conjunction with each other on a single, comprehensively controllable network. This is great in theory, but it also means any one vulnerability in the system—such as a weakness in one device—could expose the entire system to the threat. Every step forward in interconnectivity is also a step up in vulnerability, and it’s something we need to be prepared for.
- Newness. IoT devices are also new, which means two things. First, many users will be flocking to adopt these devices, making them ripe opportunities for hackers to cash in on. Second, they won’t have been tested in a live environment, which means that even if they’ve gone through extensive security testing, there are almost invariably some weaknesses that cybercriminals will be able to exploit. The first few generations of any technology are exceptionally vulnerable, and you can bet opportunistic hackers will be eager to take advantage of this.
- Coordinated attacks. There’s also the possibility that the plethora of Internet-enabled devices in circulation could help cybercriminals more efficiently or effectively launch DDoS attacks (Distributed Denial of Service attacks) on their victims. This may not necessarily affect external consumers of IoT devices; instead, a committed hacker may purchase a number of independent smart devices, then program each of them to operate as a separate unit in a scheme to radically increase traffic to a particular destination to overload the servers there.
- Personal information. Using Internet-capable smart devices in the context of your own home is highly convenient, but it also means you’ll be exchanging more personal information than usual. If you come to rely on these devices as extensions of your own life, you could end up making them gold mines for information about yourself.
- Hardware issues. Apart from attacks on the software side, the potential rise of potentially billions of connected IoT devices poses risks related to hardware, particularly as it relates to maintenance. The potential market for IoT hardware, while massive, also includes its own risks, including hardware connectivity, hacking and overall potential for malfunctioning. While the software can be hacked, the hardware side remains a threat as well.
There are also a few caveats to consider before you get too worried about the threats your own smart devices pose:
• Residential value. Most hackers are opportunistic, and smart about the attacks they execute. They won’t risk getting caught in some low-value residential pull; instead, they’re more likely to focus on corporate vulnerabilities, or targets of extreme wealth and value. This means residential consumers of IoT tech have less to worry about than they may initially suspect.
• Cat and mouse. As fast as hackers are working to exploit the weaknesses of IoT technology, developers are working to correct them—in fact, many have employed former hackers to help them uncover and fix these weaknesses early on, before they become a problem. The frequency of software updates and patches makes it even easier to keep your smart devices protected against potential threats.
• Risk mitigation. Finally, remember that most exploited vulnerabilities are ones that tech owners themselves can prevent with a handful of basic best practices, such as making sure your Wi-Fi network is encrypted, using different, strong, hard-to-guess passwords, and not giving your login information to anybody. Taking these basic precautionary measures can instantly protect you against the majority of cyberattacks, and should be taken by every member of your household or business.
These threats don’t mean we shouldn’t keep pursuing IoT technology, and it certainly doesn’t mean we need to be afraid of it in any way. These are merely considerations developers and consumers should bear in mind before launching or buying the first-generation smart devices that seek to fill our homes with more technological sophistication. In time, our best developers and companies will likely iron out these wrinkles, but it’s important to pay attention to the details in the meantime.