August 20, 2019

One of the things that makes the highly successful Avengers and superhero series from Marvel a huge success is a make-believe universe that comes to life on screen. Being fans of a good science fiction show ourselves, one of the people we love the most is Tony Stark – especially for the development of Jarvis.

(This is a guest post contributed by Chris Jones of TurnOnVPN. Thank you Chris for your contributions and advocacy.)

So advanced is this technology, Mark Zuckerberg actually devoted about a year to the replication of an AI with matching capabilities. This is not just AI in play, but the Internet of Things (IoT) too.

After all, the AI needs to interact with other units.

What makes IoT special?

You should probably have guessed by now that IoT should have phased out if it was not bringing any value to our lives. "What value?" you might ask. Well, IoT is bringing massive convenience to us, saving our time in places we might not even be aware of.

Convenience - "Alexa, order me the Iron Man action figure," and you could go back to doing whatever you were doing without skipping a beat. That is the convenience which comes with owning an IoT unit like the Amazon Echo speakers. Of course, there are a lot of other IoT devices out there, but you already get the concept of how much they can make your life easier. Rather than having to pick up your phone to conduct searches for what you want, or get up to pick your remote before turning on the TV, why not just do those with your voice – and you don't even have to lift an arm?

Time-saving - Beyond the convenience of being able to access any connected device from almost anywhere, they also save you a lot of time. A connected refrigerator, for example, will let you know when you are low on essentials without your having to go take physical stock. It might even order your groceries for you at the same time. The same goes for a sprinkler system which you can set to go on at certain times and shut off at other times. Imagine not having to manually water the plants yet still having a marvelous garden. These little things count a lot, constituting a bigger time saving for you.

Don't Forget the Downsides Yet

For all the good that this technology brings to the table, the internet of things can go very wrong too.

If you are still following through with our Avengers reference, you should remember when Ultron went all the way into the internet. That put such a rogue being (or lines of code, depending on how you see it) in a place with access to millions of connected devices from all around the world.

Going by the estimations of Intel, there should be about 200 billion IoT devices in the world by the year 2020. Just imagine what would happen if they were all to go rogue at the same time.

Bringing things closer to the real world, IoT is as dangerous as it was up there - if not more. After all, this time, no one would yell "cut" if anything were to go wrong. The question now is, what can go wrong?

Data breaches - Your connected devices are only as secure as the weakest chain in the link. Interestingly, most manufacturers tend to favor user experience over security. Thus, they make devices to be used by almost anyone without considering how easy they would be to hack. At other times, these units could come with passwords - but the user is never prompted to change them. This kind of behavior leads to higher vulnerabilities to a data hack. Once an IoT unit is hacked, there is no telling what kind of data and information can be retrieved from it. Besides data retrieval, a single connected unit could even be used as a backdoor into other devices on such a network. This, in turn, leads to an even bigger data breach.

Data monitoring - There is no telling how much of your data is being put on the internet. Depending on what connected devices you have, a lot about you could be on the web already. Think about a connected refrigerator storing your diet routine; a connected camera recording your every move and speech; a printer receiving all files from your computer over the internet and so much more. All of this raw data says a lot about you than you know – making it easier for agencies to monitor you, hackers to track you and even the manufacturers to collect data (which they can then sell to advertisers or whoever they deem fit) on you.

Other problems - Alexa, for example, once came under fire for ordering a lot of dollhouses for people who had the assistant in their home. The error came about due to a TV program where one of the hosts mentioned "Alexa," then proceeded to mention the product. If such could happen over the TV, what's stopping an intruder from calling on a personal assistant to open the home doors? Or get into your personal files? The possibilities are endless.

What you should do

It would be counterproductive to ask anyone to stay away from IoT. This technology is everywhere already, and it is not going anywhere anytime soon. However, you don't have to be a slave to the downsides of what is otherwise a great innovation.

Thus, here are a few things you should totally do:

1. Update the dedicated apps for your connected devices as soon as you get a notification;

2. Only grant apps access to functions they need. For example, a video-recording device might need access to your camera and microphone, but your printer surely doesn't;

3. Set up a secure internet connection for all your connected devices;

4. Ensure all devices are not connected to the same network. That will help mitigate the impact of any attack;

5. Layer your internet connection over a VPN. This makes it impossible for your data to get tracked, while also ensuring you cannot be deanonymized with your data stream; and

6. Set strong and secure passwords for your units.

By Chris Jones @ TurnOnVPN

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