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Digital Citizens Alliance, Friday, February 20, 2015

In last month’s International Consumer Electronics Show, technology companies revealed an array of new products, highlighting trends in consumer devices that will soon (or maybe not so soon, in some cases) be making their way to homes across the country.

One of the biggest trends to showcase at the trade show was the Internet of Things (IoT)—consumer devices that connect with each other via the Internet.  While these products will undoubtedly make life more convenient in many ways, the IoT does raise important cyber safety issues that all digital citizens should keep in mind. 

Impact on Cyber Security, Privacy, and Safety

As exciting as these new gadgets and products are, the very nature of their interconnectivity poses an entirely new set of cyber safety concerns. Ranging from “kitchen appliances that send messages to smartphones” to “cars that can ‘phone home’ to transmit data,” the IoT will eventually be “bigger than the Internet of People, since there are a lot more devices in the world than humans.”  

So what does that mean for cyber safety?  Well, a lot:

    • Privacy risks. Attending this year’s Consumer Electronics Show was Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. As she pointed out, IoT devices “often share ‘vast amounts of consumer data, some of it highly personal, thereby creating a number of privacy risks.’”When you consider the ease at which cyber criminals have invaded current devices and networks, imagine how much more prevalent it could become when all your products connect to the Internet.


    • Security concerns. Similarly, IoT devices open up a whole new can of worms when it comes to security risks. Researchers at a security conference have already “demonstrated how it was possible to hack cars, energy management systems and smart locks.” Unsecure IoT devices would be a hacker’s dream come true—and a digital citizen’s nightmare.


    • Safety issues. As more of our devices are connected to the Internet, the chances of one of those devices being hacked and threatening our personal safety grows immensely. Hacking a computer could have serious repercussions, to be sure, but hacking a car could have fatal consequences.



Addressing Cyber Safety Concerns

Technology companies, regulators, and consumer groups recognize the cyber safety issues tied to IoT devices. Already, federal regulators “are looking at how to protect the public interest when it comes to the vast array of connected things.” Tech companies, for their part, may have their eye on cashing in on IoT devices, but are also proceeding with caution in order to “manage the risk” they may pose.

Regardless of how regulators or tech companies address cyber safety issues related to IoT devices, it will likely be up to consumers to educate themselves about how to best protect their devices—and themselves.

The Internet of Things is an exciting, expanding field that will open countless doors. Responsible digital citizens must ensure those doors don’t expose them to new cyber threats.

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