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Beware: Security risks from cheap IoT devices

Some IoT devices present security risks, deepening upon the data privacy settings. This spans from data being collected and sent to device manufacturers that the user may not know about and not wish to be collected; to devices that have weak security protocols and which are easily hackable.

This problem is set to grow. It is estimated that by 2020, a quarter of cyber-attacks will involve IoT Devices. In a series of worse case scenarios, by exploiting vulnerable IoT devices, cybercriminals could take photographs of family members; drain your bank account; modify a health record; break devices like coffee makers and thermostats (or even take over a vehicle hostage).

There is even the potential to cause a heart attack (if someone had a certain type of pacemaker). While security will no doubt be strengthened with high-end devices, low-cost devices are unlikely to be all that secure and many cheaper are devices have no security protection at all.

It also stands that many people do not adopt basic security measures. For instance, a Trustlook study found that more than one-third (35 percent) of IoT device owners do not change the default password on their devices, leaving them vulnerable to attacks.

An article in TechCrunch expands on the warning, noting that it is not only while a device is plugged in and placed in your home that it is a security risk. If you toss the device out into the rubbish bin (inside or outside), it can still pose a risk to your home network.

Even where devices are not especially sophisticated, they have network access. This means that precautions need to be taken with such devices, especially ensuring that they are not collecting data that you do not know about and that they are not broadcasting your private information unencrypted to the world. Devices also need to be locked so that they do not provide root access to anyone close by.

These weaknesses extend to relatively innocuous devices like cheap “smart” bulbs, which have no security protocols protecting or blocking the chip embedded in them. Across the board, a hacked device could be utilized as more than a small connected computer, especially if it captures audio or visual information.

A related security area is where IoT devices infected with malware can be instructed to operate beyond their intended use. For example, such devices could be forced to infect other devices and “recruit” them into a botnet that executes Denial-of-Service attacks or mines cryptocurrencies.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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