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Gadget Lovers Beware: Security Is Just As Important As Functionality & Affordability

Security in the digital age is a hot topic. Even if you don’t know what the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is, you’ll probably have heard the acronym and doubtless it’ll affect you in one way or another soon.

Similarly, with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg having to answer questions about privacy in front of a U.S. Senate committee following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the way our personal information is disseminated is even more in focus.

As the internet of things is increasingly impacting the way we live our daily lives, consumers are rightly concerned about how the tech we use is capturing personal data and just what happens to it when it does.

A study at the University of Glasgow conducted by Noura Aleisa and Karen Renaud found that the potential of privacy invasion remains a cause for concern because research on security is still lacking. This was supported by Louis Basenese who noted an industry-wide problem that elevated profitability over security.

Internet hackers have already attacked connected devices – from kids toys to smart home devices as well as cars and even medical devices – highlighting critical vulnerabilities. It’s an example of weak defences as a result of developer complacency that is, thankfully, being combatted by organizations such as the OWASP, which provides a regularly updated resource about security risks and how application vulnerabilities can be counteracted.

Imagine hackers getting into your smart car via the music control system and taking you on a 150mph joy ride. That might sound like science-fiction but two security researchers found that Chrysler’s Uconnect system, which was intended to do simple things like allow you to make in-car phone calls, could be exploited by outside parties enabling them to control the engine and brakes. The flaw was quickly rectified but it does show what could happen.

When considering a new gadget, there are a few simple things you need to look out for. For tablets and smartphones, your lock screen is your first point of defense so make sure any passcodes are harder to crack than “111111”. Face and/or fingerprint recognition when available should also be used.

Google and Apple monitor the apps in their stores for vulnerabilities so you don’t need to worry about malicious software infecting your device but beware of phishing scams and always think twice when entering personal information, considering what application is asking for the information, why it needs it, and if it will be stored.

As consumers move more towards the connected home with everything from a room’s temperature to the washing machine cycle being operated by a smartphone over the internet, the chance of malicious attack increases. You should be aware of what your devices should be doing and when.

Don’t automatically assume the TV coming on all by its own is down to a power surge or “just one of those things”. It might be worth disconnecting it from the network particularly if this occurrence happens in conjunction with other electrical anomalies affecting connected devices like, for example, the heating system activating when you didn’t set it to.

To combat this, there are a number of hardware and software upgrades on the market such as WiFi routers with safeguards against connected home hacks. Although these devices aren’t cheap, they are regularly updated to look out for the latest threats and will protect the entirety of your connected network.

When buying any new tech, consider how the brand is selling security in the first place. Does it even mention it? Google Home might be more costly than competitors but it holds security in high regard and updates itself to give you peace of mind. But, if you’d rather save some money and are willing to go down the DIY route, enable your router’s built-in firewall for added protection.

Not everyone might understand how to secure their network or be able to watch out for evidence of connected device attacks but everyone understands convenience. The internet of things is still in its infancy but, as every part of our lives become governed by the technology we possess, we need to be aware of our online security and how we can best protect ourselves.

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