Research warns that more and more people are concerned that they are revealing important personal information, and that it could even stop them from buying such products
Research warns that more and more people are concerned that they are revealing important personal information, and that it could even stop them from buying such products

Why your smart TV could be listening to you – or worse

Low-quality devices could be damaging the idea of the internet of things

Andrew Griffin
Saturday 18 November 2017 20:17

In the internet of things, sometimes your TV watches you.

That’s the warning of a whole range of experts who warn that the connected home – the idea that appliances and gadgets throughout the home – might be turned on their users. The technology is intended to make life easier for the people who use it, but like many new developments comes with terrifying warnings for their users.

That’s because the same things required to use the smart home – internet connections, microphones and cameras – also make them perfect targets for hackers. And because they occupy such an intimate place in people’s homes, once they’re spying on you they can learn some of the most intimate data there is.

Those problems primarily hit cheap devices, many of which are made with little interest in how private they are. But those same cheap devices might be affecting the interest in legitimate, secure companies like Google’s Nest and Amazon’s Echo products.

People are becoming more concerned about security as the internet of things (IoT) spreads, according to a new study from Deloitte. The research warns that more and more people are concerned that they are revealing important personal information, and that it could even stop them from buying such products.

“Despite an interest and willingness to pay, as awareness of IoT grows so do concerns about security and privacy,” the Deloitte study reads. “More than 40 per cent of respondents agree that smart home technology reveals too much about their personal lives and nearly 40 per cent worry that usage can be tracked.

“In addition, fewer than one in five consumers believe they are very well informed about the security risks associated with connected home devices; and nearly 40 per cent believe they are not properly informed at all.”

When the connected home first started to arrive, many of its proponents and most famous companies were those like Nest, which makes thermostats, cameras and smoke alarms that connect up to the internet and work together. When it was bought by Google, it was proof that the internet of things was becoming more and more important, and that purchase also allowed it to become more functional and private by borrowing Google’s expertise in security and other areas.

Nest is aware that it is being allowed to look after some of the most important and private parts of people’s lives. And it is working to reassure and help customers ensure that the data generated as a result isn’t being used against them.

“It’s a challenge to help consumers understand how to be private, how to be secure, so there is lots of authentication to be done on that front,” says Lionel Guicherd-Callin, Nest’s head of product marketing in Europe. ”It’s an industry-wide challenge – not just Nest.

“You could make parallels with smartphones and computers – every piece of technology, where you have different price points and lack of standardisation. We take that very seriously, both from the privacy point of view but also on the security.”

He points to various features that Nest has added to ensure that the data stays private. The app is enabled with two-step authentication, for instance, so that people can’t get into an account without having the device itself, and it has added various features to allow people to share their accounts more securely.

What’s more, the internet connection that makes the devices insecure in the first place can also be used as a defence. Companies like Nest can send out software updates as soon as a problem is found, meaning that devices can be patched up against potential attacks even before they’re used.

But not all companies have such a commitment to security. And that weakness is already being exploited.

Last year, for instance, a major cyber attack happened after internet of things devices that hadn’t had their passwords changes were taken over en masse. That meant that their new masters could turn them on whatever they wanted – and they all of a sudden sent traffic towards specific parts of the internet, which meant that it buckled around the world.

That’s why security is so important. People are less bothered about listening in to the conversations in your kitchen than they are taking advantage of the fact that there are very advanced devices sitting around your house doing so – devices that can be used for all kinds of nefarious ends.

Quality devices are safe from this, because they benefit from all the ways that companies like Nest keep your data safe. But the problem with the internet of things is that it tends towards encouraging people to buy gadgets, and budget ones that have limited security and can be easily hacked.

It’s terrifying to think that your smart TV, your fridge or other devices might be spying on you. But it’s more likely that they’re launching their own secret cyber attack, all without you knowing.

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