Internet of Things Has Arrived: Here's How to Stay Safe

Photo courtesy of Flickr: elhombredenegro

Maybe you have heard the phrases "Internet of things" or "Internet of everything" and the very thought of controlling virtually everything in your home through the Internet shoots a chill down your spine and sends you to your happy place. But be forewarned - lurking within this fantasy world is a dark, nightmarish world where hackers and malware lurk.

As children, we grew up watching cartoons and movies in which the future promised that we would be able to skateboard on thin air, open doors with our voice, and command robot servants to fetch us soda and cheese-filled pastries. I'm still holding out for my Back to the Future skateboard, but two out of three isn't bad - thanks, science!

With the Internet of things, literally every device you can imagine promises some form of connectivity. Already, we are seeing appliances that used to be dumb becoming "smart" and semi-aware. From refrigerators and cars to pacemakers and security systems, more and more devices that we can control via mobile devices or through the Internet are making their way into our lives, waiting to obey our every command. Now, if only my dog would follow suit.

Dangers of the Internet of Everything

Of course, like all good things - especially when it comes to the Internet - even the Internet of things has its downside and hidden dangers. Imagine a world where hackers can (and given a chance will) hack into your microwave and readjust your timer, turning your precious Hot Pocket into a lump of coal. Or worse still, maybe they hack into your freezer and turn the temperature up, melting all of your Choco Tacos - oh, the horror!

While these shenanigans are possible - if you can control your devices and appliances remotely, so can a hacker - there are actually life-threatening dangers that exist as well. Picture scenarios where your home security devices are disabled, your doors are unlocked as you sleep, or your vehicle is hijacked and the brakes are disabled.

Because of these types of dangers, protecting yourself - and your family - in this new age of connectivity is going to be more important than ever. Unfortunately, as is often the case, manufacturers of these smart devices and appliances appear to be forging ahead without much regard for a uniform security plan, leaving plenty of room for exploits and vulnerabilities.

Companies such as IBM, Oracle, McAffee, and Norton Antivirus - to name a few - are all offering ideas and possible solutions, but, as is the case with the Internet and mobile security, hackers are always one step ahead - most antivirus software works to fix issues after they arise. In addition, these devices all operate on different, often proprietary, operating systems, making it difficult to come up with a single solution for all Internet-capable devices.

On top of these issues, consider how the normal computer user approaches security - not very well. Most computer users rarely update their software and OS, much less use antivirus software or set up firewalls. Getting a homeowner to update the software in their toaster oven or television is unlikely, given most users' security track record.

Still, there are some companies offering unique security solutions for embedded devices, but how effective these will be remains to be seen. In the meantime, if you are considering one of these "smart" appliances, ask yourself this question: Do we really need a washing machine that texts you when your laundry is done or a house that adjusts its lights when you tell it to?

What am I thinking? Of course we do!

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