The Unintended Consequences of the Internet of Things

Jim Calloway, Oklahoma Bar Association

internet-of-things2Refrigerators that automatically help you prepare your shopping list. Thermostats that adjust the temperature to your liking when they detect you are heading home on your commute. A device on the front door that sends a picture to you of everyone who rings the doorbell while you are away. All of these ideas seem great and maybe even a bit magical, and they are headed your way right now. The concept of the Internet of Things (IoT) holds a lot of promise.

Unfortunately, as with all things related to technology, it may not be quite that simple.

Almost all of these devices connect through your home WiFi network. And some of them are extremely low-priced. The companies producing these hopefully understand the need for good security, but every one of these devices is potentially a back door into your computer and smart phone through your WiFi network.

Let’s look at what has already happened.

A family in Washington was horrified to walk into their child’s room and hear a strange voice say over the baby monitor, “wake up little boy, daddy’s looking for you.” They also saw that the night-vision lens was being operated to follow their movements in the room. It turned out a stranger had hacked into their baby monitor and was using it to observe them and their child in the nursery. The child had previously told them of being scared by voices talking to him over the phone at night.

There is now a website dedicated to allow people to view vulnerable webcams over the Internet.

According to Ars Technica the cams available for viewing include “images of marijuana plantations, back rooms of banks, children, kitchens, living rooms, garages, front gardens, back gardens, ski slopes, swimming pools, colleges and schools, laboratories, and cash register cameras in retail stores.” There have been many reports of computer cameras being hijacked to spy on individuals. (No, you are not paranoid if you put a sock or covering over your computer camera at home when it is not is use.)

You may think you are safe to use other non-camera devices. But neither your pets or your pipes would be in good shape if your thermostat was turned off by a hacker in sub-zero weather while you were away at work.

Of course a lawyer who installs some of these IoT gadgets in the office might have more serious concerns about the confidentially of information. I do appreciate many law offices have a separate “guest” WiFi that is blocked from being able to access other operations.

The Federal Trade Commission has already begun prosecutions of device makers who are not installing appropriate security features.

I like gadgets and certainly the home security companies that sell complete packages are well aware of the need for digital security. But before you purchase some cheap and fun home gadget, you will want to do a little research. My guess is that as consumers become more aware and concerned, we will see easy-to-operate home firewalls and other security measures become more widely available. But it is worth some investigation before you allow any new “thing” into your home or your WiFi network.

This article originally ran on Jim Calloway’s blog, Law Practice Tips, on February 12, 2016: www.lawpracticetipsblog.com

About the author:

Jim Calloway is the Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program. He frequently writes and speaks on legal technology issues, Internet research, law office management and organization and legal ethics. He can be reached at jimc@okbar.org and follow him on Twitter at @jimcalloway.