As technology continues pushing the boundaries of what was previously thought possible, the Internet of Things (IoT) is changing how we work and live.
With our corporate IT department  responsible for keeping our data safe at work, Sherry Zameer, Senior Vice President for Africa at Gemalto, explains that we have to be equally, if not more, vigilant at home.
While smarter homes mean enjoying technologies advantages, they also present various risks and challenges that we have to protect ourselves against …
With homes around South Africa starting to explore and enjoy the benefits of the IoT, many consumers are getting increasingly caught up in the advantages – and neglecting to put some of the key systems in place they need to protect and enable them.
“Our pacey, modern lifestyles have made the idea of IoT very attractive. We want to be able to operate our fridges, PCs, fitness devices, printers, TVs and other devices all at the click of a button,” says Zameer. “Some market analysts believe that by 2020, most of us will own 50 internet-enabled devices which will most probably be connected to each other.
“The more devices and points of entry there are on a network, the more opportunities there are for cybercriminals to sneak in, and as we invite this amount of technology into our homes, it’s important to be aware of the risks and challenges it brings with it.”
In protecting ourselves, Zameer notes that we have to identify every potential weak link and then take steps to make sure that these are appropriately secured.
“Take a smart fridge for instance. Hacking a smart fridge doesn’t sound like presenting much of a threat but, because of the level of interconnectivity, your smart fridge could potentially become a bridge that allows hackers access to other devices that your smart fridge is connected to – devices such as your mobile phone, laptop or home security system, which would in this case be the hacker’s main targets.”
Because most people store sensitive financial and identification information on their laptops and mobile phones, accessing these devices may give hackers the power to fraudulently gain access to accounts and other personal data – which is something consumers need to protect themselves against.
”Yes, we’re embracing IoT but we need to ensure that our security systems are able to protect us so that convenience doesn’t leave us vulnerable,” says Zameer. With so many links in the chain, security must be considered “globally”: for every device and at all entry points to create a truly secure eco-system.
This means that your home security framework must be interconnected and coordinated to avoid breaches, snooping, hacking or accidental leaks.
The risks that IoT presents are not limited to private individuals however.¬† “Businesses and the public sector can also fall prey to unscrupulous cyber criminals if systems are not adequately protected,” explains Zameer. “This is because some IoT devices will run critical infrastructure such as water, electricity, public health and transportation services, and this could make them a potential target for industrial espionage as well as denial of service (DoS). You can imagine the kind of power that criminals could wield if they gained access to such essential assets.”
Take the case of smart meters for example. These collect telemetry data for the utility company which owns the device, which is analysed to build up a picture of how energy is used. From the consumer’s perspective, a smart meter creates a record of activity within your home. In the wrong hands this data could provide an invitation to break-in when you’re away.
With huge amounts of information being generated by connected devices, our focus must shift to an inside and out security approach, with security at the device, network and cloud level, which are critical to the efficient and safe operation of IoT.
“Ensuring the users are who they say they are and authorized to use the device is the essential first step in securing a device. Authentication is essential with connected devices. For instance, when we go to unlock our connected car with our mobile phone we want to know that no-one else can unlock it”, says Zameer.
He adds that IoT will not reach its full potential unless users can trust that their connected devices are secure and their privacy is guaranteed. “As for the data, it must be secured not only on the device, but on its journey through the network towards the data centre and beyond, using encryption.”
With technology innovation at home arguably just really beginning, IoT will play a pervasive role in how we live and work in the future. The only way connected “things” will reach their full potential is if we as consumers can trust them however. ”
In a world that’s more connected than ever before, we need to be more vigilant than ever before and understand the power and potential that IoT presents. By putting appropriate systems and processes in place, service providers and device manufacturers can ensure that our homes are both ‘smart’ and secure – and that all potential risks are mitigated,” concludes Zameer.