In 1982, a modified Coca-Cola machine at Carnegie Mellon University became the first Internet-connected device. The vending machine could self-report its inventory and detect whether the newly loaded drinks were being kept cold. You've probably noticed: This type of technology is everywhere today. From fitness trackers to home security systems and smart kitchens, connectivity surrounds us. It's amazing how technology continues to evolve and transform our lives, increasing comfort and providing immense control over our daily routines.
A recent Gartner study says 8.4 billion connected things will be in use in 2017, and this number is estimated to reach over 20 billion by the year 2020. I believe we will continue to see a stunning variety of ordinary devices that are computerized and connected -- impacting how we work, play and live.
The Internet of things (IoT) is a dazzling industry where the possibilities seem endless. At the same time, we shouldn't let ourselves forget that these life-altering devices are, at their core, still computers. And for as long as computing devices have existed, there have also been ways to manipulate them for nefarious purposes. While it's true that the devices are getting smarter and more sophisticated, hackers and their tactics are advancing too. We must make a conscious effort to protect these devices and make sure we, as consumers, are safe in the connected world.
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During development, the primary focus for IoT products has been to bring the greatest new technology to market. Unfortunately, this means IoT manufacturers aren't always diligent about implementing security at the manufacturing level. As a result, consumers are at risk.
Let's consider the destructive Mirai malware which made its notorious debut in 2016. Hackers targeted webcams and DVRs to enable a swarm of devices to create the botnet (a controlled network of computers infected with malicious software) which was then used to accomplish a distributed denial of service attack (DDoS). Webcams and DVRs are some of the forerunners in the IoT product realm, and weren't built with security in mind.
The IoT infrastructure, as it is stands today, is extremely vulnerable to attacks. As consumers, we must take precautions to keep ourselves and one another safe. Here are a few simple suggestions:
- Change the default usernames and passwords on the devices immediately. You might be surprised at how many people skip this step, leaving the proverbial front door wide open for hackers.
- Update to the latest firmware. Any time a device vulnerability is discovered, (reputable) companies push security patches to their customer base. It's very important to diligently update devices before the bad guys use a vulnerability as a gateway.
- Consider using smart home WiFi solutions. Vendors such as Luma, Cujo and few others help scan home networks for potential malicious activity. Additionally, consumers should avoid connecting to public WiFi as much as possible. Instead, consider using secure WiFi (VPN) solutions to connect to home networks, which is a lot more secure.
Unfortunately for now, it will continue to be our collective responsibility as consumers to keep our devices up-to-date and in check. Looking forward, we can hope that manufactures will begin to integrate security into IoT devices from the ground up, helping secure the connected world for everyone.
— Pawani Vaddi joined Webroot in March 2017 as the product manager for its consumer product line. She has worked in the cybersecurity industry for more than six years in different careers, moving from engineering roles into product management. Before Webroot, she worked for Symantec and Sonicwall.