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Why More Sensors Means More Susceptibility in the IoT

Data privacy can only be guaranteed when users make their own informed decisions regarding device use.
By Carsten Rhod Gregersen
Sep 22, 2019

Have you taken a moment to notice how Internet of Things (IoT) devices are more prevalent these days in people's homes and lives? Smart doorbells with facial recognition, pet technology with microphones, Teslas with cameras—devices are only becoming more sophisticated and widespread.

These devices, often using susceptible connections from server to receiver, have the ability to capture many data points about a user. Furthermore, the varying data rights of global citizens means that IoT eyes are everywhere, with little legal oversight. The devices undoubtedly make the lives of people around the world more efficient and better connected—but at what cost?

A Spike in Devices
If you can think of it, there is probably already an IoT device for it. Devices have become so niche thanks to cheaper computational components and better global connectivity. It would not have been too long ago that an internet-connected pet camera and live feed direct to one's pocket device sounded like something in the far-off future—and yet, here we are. Smart toothbrushes, refrigerator cameras, self-monitoring trash cans, internet-connected egg checkers—the designs of devices know no bounds.

The result? A soaring number of connected devices that increasingly invade people's homes and private lives. For example, experts predict that there will be 10 billion such devices by 2020, and 22 billion by 2025. Perhaps this would not pose so much of an issue if governments and IoT companies could agree on technology safeguards, but that has not proven to be the case.

What This Means for Users
Not all devices are created equal. Form and function vary wildly from one device to the next, and so do their privacy safeguards. It is no secret that IoT devices are hackable in many cases. Perhaps even more alarming is that most hacks relate to devices with cameras. Research has found that security cameras represent almost half of the vulnerable devices installed on home networks. Furthermore, the report noted that the average U.S. household contains 17 smart devices, while European homes have an average of 14.

In the IoT, customers certainly get what they pay for. Cheap devices are hackable since many employ cheap security, with many low-cost devices based on a similar blueprint, meaning that if a vulnerability is found in one, it may also work against other models. Furthermore, cloud server connections which relay device information often do not even need to be hacked to be openly accessible to outside forces. Once the data is accessed, it becomes a question of who has the data and what they are doing with it.

Perhaps it is sold for marketing and research purposes, or perhaps it is being unlawfully accessed during criminal proceedings. The possibilities depend on the person who has access to the device, and that is unknown.

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