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Privacy in the Age of the Internet of Things (IoT): How to Keep Your Data Safe

The internet is continuously evolving and changing how we communicate, work, and interact with the world. One significant aspect many people are integrating into their lives is the Internet of Things. 

What is the Internet of Things? 

The Internet of Things (IoT) describes physical objects (things) built with sensors, software, or other technologies. 

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IoT objects are connected to the internet, and their purpose is to link with other devices and share data to increase efficiency, decision-making, and ultimately to make our lives easier. 

These devices can be simple household devices or sophisticated industrial tools. Popular IoT objects include: 

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  • Smart Home Devices: These are smart lights, locks, or speakers, like Amazon Echo or Google Home. 
  • Wearable Technology: Smartwatches or health trackers that track, analyze, and share data related to physical activity, heart rate, etc. 
  • Smart Cities: These may include smart street lighting, waste and traffic management, and public safety measures, such as CCTV. 

There are an estimated 7 billion connected IoT devices today; this number is expected to grow to 22 billion by 2025 and 29 billion by 2030. So, with so many devices connected to the internet, how can we be sure our data is protected from third-party sharing or cybercriminals?

The Risks of The Internet of Things

IoT devices are vulnerable to many cybersecurity attacks, including phishing, spoofing, ransomware, and Denial of Service (DoS) attacks. 

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One example of an IoT exposure was the Verkada hack in March 2021. Verkada specializes in cloud-based security camera systems. The incident led to hackers accessing over 150,000 cameras across factories, schools, prisons, and hospitals. 

This breach demonstrates that security for IoT devices is imperative. The Verkada breach occurred due to lax security in critical areas, such as weak employee passwords and a lack of multi-factor authentication.

Why IoT Devices Are at Risk

Unfortunately, the more data a device collects, the more attractive it is to cybercriminals to try to breach and sell on platforms like the dark web. Identifying the risks associated with your IoT devices will be a significant step in securing the sensitive data stored on these devices. The following three are common attacks IoT devices face.

  1. Weak Passwords

Firstly, as was the case in the Verkada hack example, one common entry point for hackers to IoT devices is weak passwords. 

Many devices come with a default username or password that can be easily exposed because the login credentials are available on dark web blogs or because a hacker’s software can easily guess the primary password with little effort. 

Generally, users fail to change these default details or are unaware they should change them. Therefore, with any new smart device, ensure you familiarise yourself with the device settings, change the default username details, and use a strong password generator to protect it from hackers. 

  1. Lack of Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

Many IoT devices do not incorporate multi-factor authentication, a vital feature that adds extra security to an account if a password is breached. MFA prompts a user for additional information to validate their identity, which can be a one-time code, fingerprint, or as complex as an iris scan. 

However, many IoT devices need a user interface to make this feature possible. MFA is impossible to add for some devices, such as smart light bulbs. Whereas other devices can include MFA, some companies choose a more straightforward interface over security.   

So, while the device may be more aesthetically pleasing and convenient, it unfortunately compromises the security of the device. Therefore, MFA should always be activated from the device settings. If not, protecting your device with a powerful password is crucial to protect your accounts. 

  1. Lack of Encryption When Sharing Files

Cloud storage is one of the most popular forms of sharing, storing, and backing up our data. It is integral to many IoT devices because it allows for a centralized location of the data they generate, collect, and share. 

Unfortunately, many IoT devices do not have basic security features to keep your information safe and can expose data sent over Wi-Fi. Although some devices offer encryption, many need more computing and processing power to do so effectively. 

Although many businesses endeavor to utilize encryption in IoT devices, it may not be possible due to resources or budget constraints. When data is not stored effectively, users are vulnerable to attacks such as ransomware, which will lock you out of your device unless you pay a ransom. 

How to protect yourself from Internet of Things Attacks

While there can be risks to IoT devices, you can protect yourself online by increasing your cyber awareness to keep your devices secure. The following tips also benefit your mobile device safety, business, and general online privacy, so let’s take a look. 

  1. Update Firmware and Software

Outdated software is especially vulnerable to attacks because, after a specific amount of time, manufacturers stop fixing security vulnerabilities or bugs in the software. For this reason, cybercriminals will target outdated devices to expose vulnerabilities and spread malware. 

To reduce this risk, check for notifications from the manufacturer when an update is ready, or check your device settings and download the update immediately. 

  1. Review Privacy Settings

IoT devices often collect vast amounts of data, including personal identifiable information (PII), usage patterns, and device settings. The risk of this data being collected is that companies may share the data they collect with third parties for advertising purposes, and the more companies that have access to your data the higher the risk of a data breach. 

To protect your privacy from data sharing, review your app permissions from the device settings and opt out of any data settings that make you uncomfortable. 

  1. Secure your Mobile Devices

Securing the networks related to IoT devices is crucial to protect against data breaches. Therefore, to reduce this risk, secure your smartphones, tablets, and computers with strong passwords and multi-factor authentications. 

Ensure you have changed your Wi-Fi network’s default username and password and regularly update your router’s firmware.

Balancing the Internet of Things and Cybersecurity Effectively

While the Internet of Things can offer us greater convenience, we must exercise caution when incorporating these devices into our daily lives. 

James Musoba
James Musoba
Studying Africa's startup and technology scene. I always look forward to discovering new exciting inventions and vibrant entrepreneurs.

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