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The IoT is already here – Will you be secure?

August 21, 2014 • Opinion, Top Stories

Trevor Coetzee - Regional Director South Africa and Sub Saharan Africa McAfee

Trevor Coetzee, Regional Director, South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa for McAfee. (Image Source: McAfee).

With 2014 being dubbed as the year of the ´Internet of Things´ (IoT), there are major concerns regarding the security & privacy issues that consumers face now, and potential problems they could have in the future.

Trevor Coetzee, Regional Director, South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa for McAfee: Part of Intel Security addresses some of these issues below.

“We should question whether some of the great advancements in technology are designed to serve us or serve the interests of others.”

This was the stark assessment of Google Glass by Australian senator Cory Bernadi in 2013, and is reflective of just some of the considerations related to IoT devices.  Indeed the question of privacy in a connected world appears to dominate the concerns related to our connected future, and yet despite the concern, is not dampening their adoption.

According to Gartner the Internet of Things (IoT) (excludes PCs, tablets and smartphones) will grow to 26 billion devices by the year 2020.  Such wholesale adoption will happen whether consumers want a connected future or not, as was witnessed in Texas when a woman pulled out a handgun to prevent a utility worker from installing a smart meter at her home. The cause for such a reaction was the perceived loss of privacy the meter represents as the woman later commented; “Our constitution allows us not to have that kind of intrusion on our personal privacy.“

Although such concerns appear to be founded with stories of smart meters being able to determine TV shows consumers are watching, yet another restaurant ejecting a customer wearing Google Glasses, or the adoption of black boxes by the insurance industry to ‘analyse driving habits’, the IoT is already here.  Therefore, with their introduction into society what can be done to limit one’s exposure?

Bruce Schneier, in his article entitled ‘Surveillance and the Internet of Things’ makes reference to the Privacy settings of such devices.  Whilst of course such settings will exist, there is always the question of whether they actually do anything!  As was discovered when a researcher found that a smart TV was submitting private data about consumers’ viewing habits even when the setting to enable such a feature was disabled.

All of this sounds rather creepy, but sadly the collation of personal data, and their resale has been happening for some time now.  The Internet of Things merely increases the volume and richness of the data sets collected, ultimately making their sale more profitable.

As a consumer therefore it is important to look beyond the features such devices promise, and not only implement the privacy settings where appropriate, but apply additional controls to reduce your exposure.  The smart meter, connected fridge, TV, and wearable tech can and will help make our lives more efficient, but failure to implement appropriate safeguards can prove to be a costly mistake.

By Trevor Coetzee, Regional Director South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, McAfee: Part of Intel Security

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