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Internet Of Things Christmas Security Survival Guide

Here's how CISOs, security researchers, and all security-minded folks in between can channel their healthy paranoia into helpful ways of protecting friends and family from IoT gifts.

The Internet of Christmas is in full effect. With the holiday shopping shifted into full gear, consumers are filling their carts and their wish lists with a dizzying array of super connected Internet of Things devices. Among those legions are undoubtedly plenty of friends and family members of security professionals.  

It is enough to give just about any security professional more than a few grey hairs. There's nothing more discouraging after a work week nagging colleagues to follow security policies and good security hygiene than to visit a relative who is exposing their home network through their newfangled smart TV.

But it's happening, and after this shopping season, it's bound to get worse. The experts with the Online Trust Alliance (OTA) estimate that 50 million connected devices will be sold over the holidays this year. That includes fitness devices, televisions, and kids' toys under the tree. It also includes those thermostats and appliances people pick up before relatives come visit.  

"That’s 50 million opportunities for data and home network compromises as well as privacy abuses,” said Craig Spiezle, executive director and president of OTA. “Consumers should not have to pay twice—once with their credit card and then again in perpetuity with their personal data, identity and safety.”

Last week, the OTA released some guidance in the form of a checklist meant to help consumers before and after they've picked up IoT devices over the holidays. We've cherry-picked a few of the most relevant tips for security executives looking for a cheat sheet when offering advice and troubleshooting for friends and fam over the holidays. If you're looking for a boilerplate speech to give to people who way, "Hey, you know about this security stuff, what do you think of this device?" then this is it:


Make Sure It's Returnable

If you get your hooks into friends and family early on, you can help them from making IoT gaffes in the first place. OTA suggests consumers check out a device's warranty and support policies to make sure the manufacturer actually patches its products. Additionally, it suggests consumers confirm tha they can return devices for a refund after they've unboxed it and realized that it doesn't offer enough security for their needs.


Patches Aren't Just For Clothes--Unless They're Wearables

When manufacturers do update devices, consumers need to be ready to patch. This means that gift recipients need to register devices so they know when updates are available.


App Stores Are Best

Advise your friends to download devices directly from the manufacturer's official site whenever possible, the OTA says. And be sure to check the permissions on those apps, so they're not hoovering up data!


TV Stations Can Be Promiscuous, Smart TVs Shouldn't Be

Permissions and connectivity are the two big privacy killers for IoT devices. OTA reccomends that devices are connected directly through a wired connection, preferably through a guest network if the consumer's router supports that. They should be guarded by a firewall and remote access should probably be disabled when not needed. Perhaps even more importatnly, it's important to harden permissions settings for data collection and sharing policies with third parties.


Mic Drop

Speaking of permissions--perhaps some of the most sensitive data colleciton can be done using on-board microphones and cameras. This can be circumvented by disabling these features when not in use. It might be best to even removing the camera or flipping it to face a wall if it is not used regularly.


Ericka Chickowski specializes in coverage of information technology and business innovation. She has focused on information security for the better part of a decade and regularly writes about the security industry as a contributor to Dark Reading.  View Full Bio

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User Rank: Strategist
12/14/2015 | 11:27:09 PM
Security concerns with end users
" it suggests consumers confirm tha they can return devices for a refund after they've unboxed it and realized that it doesn't offer enough security for their needs."

Ericka, as an end user how I can know how much my device and privacy is protected? Its quiet difficult for a normal user unless, he is an expert in similar line. End-users are bothered only about its functionality and various other features.
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