The world is becoming smarter and more connected all the time – and that has serious implications for people who want to protect their personal data and their privacy. If you’ve been enjoying the convenience of smart utilities and appliances, make sure you also take the steps necessary to protect yourself and your loved ones from cyberthreats.
Do you know the difference between smart and connected?
Many American homes are full of smart devices – smart locks, smart speakers, smart doorbell cameras, smart lightbulbs, smart vacuums, smart outlets, smart crockpots, and more. These electronic devices connect, share, and interact with whoever is using them, as well as with other devices.1, 2
When smart devices are connected, information is shared to improve performance and functionality and also to gain better understanding of whoever is using the product. Smart items can be connected in three basic ways:3
1. One-to-one connections. These occur when a smart product connects to another device to transfer information. For example, when your mechanic connects your car to a diagnostic computer.3
2. One-to-many connections. In some homes, personal digital assistants may connect many devices together to automate routines. For instance, the assistant might be programmed to turn on the lights when the smart door lock opens in the evening.3, 4
3. Many-to-many connections. Sometimes smart products connect to other smart products and connect to outside data sources. The Center for Internet Security (CIS) explained, “…personal digital assistants…analyze your past commands to try to anticipate your needs. They may also be linked to accounts used to purchase goods or services; make changes in your house…or be linked to other accounts so they can [provide] your schedule or read your email.”5
As connectivity expands, so do security and privacy concerns. If a smart home were hacked, the cybercriminal might be able to access the digital assistant to make purchases, identify key information, gather sensitive financial or personal data, track the homeowner, or engage in other activities.5
Security should be top of mind when making your home smart
Homeowners who want to enjoy the convenience of a smart, connected home should take steps to protect themselves. CIS recommends taking the following steps:5
• Do not connect unnecessary devices to the Internet.
• Give every device a strong and unique password.
• Turn off ‘Universal Plug and Play.’
• Connect devices with sensors that transmit data from one object to another object or from a device to a person using a separate Wi-Fi network. That way, if one or more of these devices is compromised, other devices in your home may remain inaccessible.
• Take time to research the privacy, security, and accessibility options. If possible, customize devices to provide yourself with the highest level of security possible.
• Make sure the devices you purchase offer patches and updates when they become available.
• Replace devices that are no longer supported by the vendor.
• If a device wants you to share personally identifiable information – such as Social Security numbers and dates of birth – choose a different device or keep the device disconnected from your home network.
Protecting your privacy
Late-night comedians have joked for years about not reading terms and conditions before checking the box indicating they have. The same is true of privacy policies. A 2019 Princeton University study examined privacy concerns for smart home owners and found several recurring themes:6, 7
1. Convenience and connectedness surpassed privacy. Some homeowners disregard personal privacy risks and make their data freely available to device manufacturers, Internet Service Providers (ISP), governments, and advertisers.6
However, recent stories about smartphone apps listening in on television viewing to deliver targeted advertisements and gaming systems recording video of players emotions and reactions, suggest it may be an incorrect assumption.6, 8
2. Value-added benefits bested privacy. Homeowners’ opinions about companies and other entities that collect data depended on potential benefits to the homeowner. If the homeowner liked personalized advertising or appreciated the potential for improved services, privacy matters were less important.6
3. Consumers may be too trusting. Few homeowners checked to make sure privacy protections were in place when a product came from a well-known technology or consumer products company.6
4. Consumers are not aware of some privacy risks. Even when devices do not record audio or visual data, they can pose privacy and security risks. For example, machine-learning algorithms can use lightbulb and thermostat data to predict sleep and home occupancy patterns.6
United States lawmakers, lobbyists, and CEOs have been pursuing legislation that will put consumer privacy protections in place. Until then, smart homeowners should take steps to protect themselves from cyberattacks. They also should consider their privacy priorities.
We believe you should be aware of financial and other risks concerning your personal data and privacy. If you want to learn more, please give us a call.
This material was prepared by Carson Coaching. Carson Coaching is not affiliated with the named broker/dealer.