Don’t forget security with all those ‘Internet of Things’ devices

The IoT revolution includes lots of fascinating and time-saving gadgets, but they can have security vulnerabilities.


Imagine a fork that helps you diet. It already exists: The Hapifork is a Bluetooth-enabled utensil that monitors your eating speed, designed to help you slow down and feel full sooner. Feeling guilty about leaving your pets alone while you’re away? You can view, play with and dispense treats to your pets using relatively inexpensive products now available in stores and online. Products like those are the tip of an innovation iceberg.

As the Internet of Things (IoT) expands, things that used to be the province of sci-fi are already becoming commonplace. Devices will adjust light levels and temperature to help ensure a good night’s sleep. Connected kitchens will help an uninspired cook create a gourmet meal from items already in the cupboards and refrigerator. Sensors will monitor health, and warn an individual about a pending illness. IoT is a term that encompasses any device that’s connected to and exchanges data via the internet. Today, that includes Fitbits, smart thermostats, Google Home and Amazon Alexa. Soon, it will include smart cities in which technology will ease traffic, conserve energy, improve pedestrian safety and decrease crime. The military, fashion, manufacturing – nothing will be untouched by this rapidly advancing, intertwined technology.

Change is coming fast

But in the heady rush to join the IoT world, it’s important not to neglect basic security. Many of these devices can be vulnerable to hacking. That means a tech-savvy thief could bypass that smart security system and walk into your home undetected or upend your life in a myriad of ways. According to F5 Labs, which monitors IoT threats, the risk is real: They tracked a 249 percent increase in attacks against in IoT devices between 2016 and 2017, with almost half of those attacks coming from China. Here are a few simple ways to protect yourself:

  • Make sure your home’s router (Wi-Fi) is password protected.
  • Change the default passwords for each new device.
  • Check to see if communications on a device you’re considering are encrypted; if they aren’t, don’t buy it. A Google search should give you the answer.
  • Make those passwords complicated; if possible, require two-factor authorization, where the added step of a text or email is required for access.
  • Always install manufacturer updates, and do it as soon as possible.
  • Limit geo-location access on a device unless it’s absolutely necessary.
  • Unless you know who you got it from very well, avoid buying or using secondhand devices. Here’s a Forbes article on that.

Try to avoid the “set it and forget it” mentality behind IoT and other connected devices. Just like you lock your doors every night, keeping an eye on these digital portals into your home is critical for security. With hacking on the rise, they can be the equivalent of a forgotten side door that lets thieves in.