With the advent of the ‘Internet of Things’ IoT (internet connected devices), the average consumer is likely to have multiple devices in their home, office or on their person that is capable of surreptitious surveillance and not be aware of it. One of the more high profile examples of this was the recent Apple FaceTime bug that would allow anyone to activate the microphone and camera in your iPhone or iPad without your permission. While Apple released a patch for this bug within a few days of it being made public, how long this bug existed and may have been exploited, is unknown. If you have an Apple device, please make sure you have installed this update and if you do not use FaceTime, disable it.
Unfortunately, the FaceTime bug is just one of the many exploits that we know about. Any internet connected OR wireless device (think baby monitor) in your office, home, car, coffee shop or on your person is vulnerable to be exploited. To make this problem worse, some of these devices come pre-configured for ease of installation with default settings that either cannot be changed or the user does not bother to change. This allows anyone with a very basic knowledge to gain access to and control those devices. Additionally, some of the older devices (3+ years) have very basic (if any) security and do not have the option to be upgraded (built in obsolescence).
So, what does the average consumer do? If you do a web search for ‘how to protect yourself from the internet of things’ you will find a LOT of articles. Unfortunately, most of them use terminology and give recommendations that can be daunting for many. One of the better articles that gives some common sense advice is this one from Lifehack. While some of these may require enlisting the help of a family friend or local geek, at a minimum we suggest you make an inventory of your connected devices (tip #1), so that you at least know what is at risk and can potentially mitigate your exposure.
Did you know? If you have an Amazon Alexa or a Google Home device, then you have a built-in, always on, microphone (and possibly camera) listening/watching and recording everything within range, 24x7. George Orwell would be so proud! If you have an Alexa and want to really be freaked out, login to your Amazon account and you can review and listen to all of the recordings it has made – and fortunately, delete them. Perhaps Jeff Bezos should pay a bit more attention to his own personal internet security…?
I love technology and have many IoT devices (including Alexa -which I turn off when not in use and restrict to my office), but I always assume that any of these devices has the potential to ‘go rogue’. As such, I am cautious about not only what I use but where I install it, to help me manage the failure points.