Beware! Your Devices Are Spying On You

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Your tech devices may be providing unwanted windows into your personal life.

They’re here, they’re there, and they’re everywhere — recording your every move. Listening to your every word and listing your every interaction. You invited them in and gave them access to your space through cell phones, wearables, webcams, and basically everything that connects to the Internet. It is a pretty fantastical thought and a bit scary. Yet it hasn’t seemed to sway the millions of people away from interacting with these listening devices, gobbling them up by the hundreds of millions.

It is hard not to get pulled into the hype… and the convenience. These gateway devices are our portals to the Internet of Things (IoT) and are paving the way to make our lives “easier.” As we continue to open ourselves and our families to this monitoring, it is imperative that we recognize our exposures. Here are a few devices and thoughts to consider:

Baby Monitors

A baby monitor is supposed to make us feel safe. Recently they have come out with video baby monitors. Now we are able to watch our little ones from anywhere. Not only is this cute, but you can distinguish if a whimper is something that needs attention or if your darling is merely dreaming. In recent years, these monitors have taken even bigger steps: You can scan the room from anywhere.

At work, do you want to see if the sitter put your baby to bed? No problem — open your app and take a peek. Sounds like it should bring you a big sense of relief… or does it? How strong is that password securing this video device? A hacker can also watch your baby at home and learn the routines of your family. Make sure to secure your routers and modems.

Garage Door Openers and Automatic Locks

Remember when the only option we had to secure our garage was with a metal key? I certainly do. Today we are able to lock and unlock our homes with our smartphones and similar devices — from a different state, let alone from across town. Now while this is convenient in many situations, the potential for misuse is alarming. If you can open your garage door, so can hackers if your system is not properly safeguarded. Seventy-three percent of adults are victims of cyber crimes each year. It isn’t too hard to imagine someone breaking into an improperly secured home.

Kinect for Xbox

Xbox is amazing. It allows users to talk to each other and video chat. Users can allow Kinect to identify their faces and enable automatic sign-in to an Xbox Live profile. If you are playing with a total stranger, you are letting them into your space. That is obvious. But quite literally, the spies are watching you as well. Microsoft’s Kinect has been linked with Britain’s spy agency known as GCHQ, and the snooping doesn’t end there.

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Kinect has been mining data for our own National Security Agency for over a decade. Think of the big data trove being created by today’s teenagers. The NSA now has your child’s image, most probably yours, and that of your living room. Openly transmitted information is gleaned from your camera, your chat logs, and audio, and it is all linked to your IP address. Talk about the Internet of Things! Remember to watch your back. Secure your network and shut down your game consoles when not in use so maybe only Uncle Sam and Edward Snowden can track you.

Smart TV

The television has changed a great deal since its inception — from the dial – to the remote – to today, where we can use voice command features. While I am still of the age where I can manage to use a traditional remote, I do appreciate the potential that voice-activated technology provides in today’s smart TVs. However, I have chosen not to let my television eavesdrop and record my family’s private conversations.

Keep in mind that when a voice request is processed, smart TVs are programmed to send this data to third parties. I don’t want my personal information sent to just anyone. While the TVs don’t monitor before they hear key words, they are listening for triggers, and once they hear them, they are “aware.” And, if it isn’t bad enough to keep your privacy from legit companies, what would happen if a hacker broke in and could listen to your private moments? Do your homework and know your TV’s security and privacy options.

Webcams

Early on, a webcam was an upgrade in a computer or device. Today webcams are something that every businessperson is expected to have. Webcams have many benefits. Prior to webcams and video conferencing, we traveled around the world for brief meetings. Now, with a double click of a button pushed, we can meet face-to-face with individuals anywhere.

It is amazing. However, these same devices have also given hackers worldwide the ability to enter our affairs and look around without ever being noticed. Sometimes it is voyeuristic, or sometimes it is malicious. Imagine not shutting down your webcam, leaving your computer on, and getting undressed. A hacker has taken over your webcam. You don’t know it, but you are being watched. Shut down and secure your devices after each use.

Protect Yourself

After reading all the above, it may seem I am paranoid. As a risk manager, I question almost everything and then use a reverse process to dissect, plan, and mitigate. While the manufacturers of listening devices have a moral responsibility to their users, you can take charge and intercede on your own behalf. There are specific ways to protect yourself with each device.

First and foremost, use complex passwords. Use a password generator. Companies, including Dashlane.com and Keepass.info offer free password generators and online password vaults that are very effective in protecting you and your personal information from the point of login. Know your vendor, research your device, and understand the security and privacy settings available.

Stay tuned to news about the technology you own, and take the time to reach out to an area IT or home security expert to help close any open windows or portals. Don’t just pause the feature. Always turn off the device once you are finished using it. If you are at home, don’t use the online feature of the baby monitor. This way, your routine won’t be as obvious.

Be smart and be careful. Remember, the online world has become a dangerous place, yet with proper planning, you can know your risks and work to reduce them.

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Todd Lyle

Todd D. Lyle is a leader. Currently his focus is on educating organizations about the potential for harnessing the human element through use of the cloud via a cloud services brokerage. His fascination with the possibilities of information technologies began when he was issued his first “laptop” while serving as a young lieutenant in a U.S. Army aviation regiment in South Korea. In 1988, a bulky Zenith SuperSport 286 portable computer was his first brush with “mobile” computing. Years later, having served with IFOR in Bosnia as a Force Protection Officer, Lyle returned home and obtained a Master of Science…