Technology July 2015

Security in the age of the Internet of Things

Today, security no longer means simply making sure doors and windows are locked. In our world of rapidly advancing technology, it is important to be aware of cyber security and how it can affect our physical security.

There are many people who hear of cyber security and think that it is only something with which the National Security Agency and the government should be concerned.

However, most people are part of the Internet of Things (IoT), the network of physical objects embedded with electronics, software, sensors and connectivity to enable them to exchange data with the manufacturer, operator and other connected devices.

It is not harmful or dangerous, provided proper security measures are taken; if you would not leave your car or house unlocked, then you should not leave your devices open to the public.

As the IoT continues to develop, the issue of cyber security begins to merge with physical security. Advancements in technology have made it easier for people to stay connected to each other and increase their productivity.

For example, cars have the ability to connect with smartphones, allowing the user to answer calls, listen to music and even search the Internet for directions—all while on the move. Meanwhile, when someone takes a photo on a smartphone, it can automatically appear on his or her tablet, laptop and desktop.

These actions require a connection between devices, across which information is shared. Since the connections are all among personal devices, we may assume that we are the only ones with access to them.

However, the reality is that the networks are not as secure as we may believe them to be. Further, a breach may compromise not only our own information, but also that of our family and coworkers.

A hacker can easily break into a Bluetooth Smart or Bluetooth Low Energy connection on any device, because of the simplicity of its six-digit password. Once the Bluetooth connection has been broken into, it is easy for someone to access devices like your computer, car or even the “smart” electricity meter in your home.

We have already seen this happen with the Target Corporation credit card breach in 2013, which occurred through the firm’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system. Meanwhile, reports show that other breaches have occurred through smart refrigerators, smart televisions, and home Wi-Fi routers.

In addition, besides the security of devices, we should also be concerned with that of information. Due to the convergence of devices and the cloud, information is no longer stored only on the device, but also in the cloud.

The key to making sure both device and information contained therein are secure is not as complicated as it may seem. Simple actions, such as updating phone or computer software on a regular basis, are important.

These updates include security fixes for problems that have been found in the software. Besides helping the device run more smoothly, the updates will keep its security up to date. In fact, some cloud services even perform a malware scan during upgrade procedures.

The IoT can become a success if it remains secure through the use of traditional network security features, including but not limited to, firewalls, web access proxies, dynamic host configuration protocol server settings, as well as identity and access controls.

In order to protect our lives in the future, the IoT must be more secure. To accomplish this, devices need to be made with security in mind, while security on devices needs to be updatable. Currently, if a home Wi-Fi router experiences a breach, a new router must be bought instead of a patch being installed. Devices also need to be able to perform security checks to try and detect breaches before too much damage occurs.

We all must assume that our devices have been broken into, and proceed from there. If we can introduce the security regimens available to us in the devices we use everyday, our information will stay secure while we enjoy the benefits of the IoT.