Not so long ago computers were our only connection to the internet, but these days we are almost constantly connected, through our phones, homes, autos, and even our children’s toys. In fact, research firm Gartner estimates that we now have over 8.4 billion connected “things” in use and that number will continue to grow rapidly.
Being connected brings great convenience, of course, but it also opens us up to a much wider range of risks, including the loss of money, data, and property, not to mention privacy. So the question now is, how to protect ourselves as we move through the connected world. Let’s start by talking about one of the newer and less familiar avenues of attack: connected “things.”
The term “Internet of Things” (IoT) is used to describe connected devices such as IP cameras, smart TVs and appliances, and interactive speakers and toys. These things have a built-in connection to the internet, but often don’t come with sophisticated security features—many have password protection at the most. This makes them easy to hack, especially if the password isn’t changed from the factory default. You may remember the Mirai malware incident, in which tens of thousands of IoT devices were infected and used to launch attacks against popular websites. IoT malware has only grown more sophisticated since then, opening the door to dangers such as launching larger attacks, accessing computing power to mine for cryptocurrencies, or leapfrogging attacks to computers and smartphones that store critical information. The bottom line is that IoT devices give cybercriminals a lot of access points to play with, and we have yet to see all the risks that they could bring.
Computers & Smartphones
Just as attacks on devices have become more sophisticated, so too have threats aimed at computers and smartphones. Cybercrooks are no longer satisfied with distributing malware to cause disruption—now they are focused on making money. Cryptocurrency miners are just one example of this; the other is the huge growth we have seen in ransomware. Authors of this type of malware don’t only make money by locking down the data of normal computer users, businesses, and government agencies, and demanding money to release it. They have also created an entirely new industry by selling ransomware products to other would-be cybercriminals online.
Another large and growing threat to smartphone users is malicious apps. We’ve seen a large uptick in risky applications, designed to steal data, rack up premium charges without the user’s permission, or access the device for other malicious purposes. Again, money is a driver, since a large number of the new risky apps we’ve detected have been designed to manipulate mobile ads, generating money for the malware authors.
Our computers and devices aren’t the only things under attack—the networks we use continue to be a growing target. This is no doubt related to our desire to be connected no matter where we go. Public Wi-Fi networks offer bad guys an unprecedented opportunity to intercept multiple users’ data while in transit to and from the network. This data can include credit card numbers, passwords, and identity information, if the network is not secure. What’s more, some attackers are going even higher up in the chain to take advantage of vulnerabilities in network protocols, making secure infrastructure even more important.
With so many risks associated with the connected landscape, it’s up to all of us to take steps to protect our data, devices and privacy.
Here are some key tips to safely navigate the connected world:
- Always use comprehensive security software on both your computers and mobile devices, and keep all of your software up-to-date. This will safeguard you from the latest threats.
- When you bring home a new IoT device, make sure that you reset the default password.
- Look into putting all of your connected home devices onto a separate network from your computers and smartphones, so if one device is infected the attacker cannot access your other data-rich devices. Check your router’s user manual to learn how.
- To ensure that your home computers and devices stay safe, look for a more secure network solution that includes IoT protection.
- Avoid connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, which may or may not be secure. Instead, consider using a VPN. This is a piece of software that will give you a secure connection to the internet no matter where you go.
- Only download apps from official app stores and read other users’ reviews first to see if they are safe.
- Keep up-to-date on the latest threats, since they are constantly evolving, and make sure to share these important security tips with friends and family.