Many have seamlessly transitioned their fitness regimens out of the gym and into the living room since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks in part to the use of IoT devices. IoT (Internet of Things) denotes the web of interconnected physical devices embedded with sensors and software to collect and share information via the internet. The most common IoT devices used for virtual fitness include wearable fitness trackers and stationary machines equipped with digital interfaces. As effective as these devices are for facilitating a great workout, many do not realize the risks they pose for their online security. According to McAfee Labs Threats Report, new IoT malware increased by 7% at the start of the pandemic. There are various steps that users can take to continue using these devices securely without compromising performance. But first, it’s essential to understand why these devices are vulnerable to cyber-attacks.
What Makes IoT Devices Vulnerable?
IoT devices are just like any other laptop or mobile phone that can connect to the internet. They have embedded systems complete with firmware, software, and operating systems. As a result, they are exposed to the same vulnerabilities, namely malware and cyber-attacks.
One reason why IoT devices are so vulnerable is due to their update structure, or lack thereof. IoT devices lack the stringent security updates afforded to laptops or mobile phones. Because they do not frequently receive updates—and in some cases, never—they do not receive the necessary security patches to remain consistently secure.
What’s worse, if the developer goes out of business, there is no way to update the existing technology vulnerabilities. Alternatively, as newer models become available, older devices become less of a priority for developers and will not receive as many updates as their more contemporary counterparts.
Without these updates, cybercriminals can hack into these devices and taking advantage of the hardware components that make them a significant risk to users. For example, they can track someone’s location through a device’s GPS, or eavesdrop on private conversations through a video camera or audio technology.
IoT devices with unpatched vulnerabilities also present an easy entry point through which hackers can penetrate home networks and reach other devices. If these devices do not encrypt their data transmission between different devices and servers, hackers can intercept it to spoof communications. Spoofing is when a hacker impersonates a legitimate source, the back-end server or the IoT device in this case, to transmit false information. For instance, hackers can spoof communications between a wearable fitness tracker and the server to manipulate the tracking data to display excessive physical activity levels. They can then use this data for monetary gain by providing it to insurance companies and 3rd party websites with financial incentive programs.
Hackers can also exploit device vulnerabilities to spread malware to other devices on the same network to create a botnet or a web of interconnected devices programmed to execute automated tasks. They can then leverage this botnet to launch Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) or Man in the Middle attacks.
Tips for Safeguarding Your IoT Devices
Whether you own an IoT device to monitor your health or physical performance, it is essential to take the necessary precautions to minimize the risks they present to digital security. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when incorporating your device into your fitness routine.
1. Secure Your Routers
Default names and passwords are low-hanging fruit for hackers and should be the first thing you address when securing your router. Default router names often include the make or model of the manufacturer. Changing it will reduce a hacker’s chance of infiltrating your home network by making the router model unidentifiable. Further, follow password best practices to ensure your router password is long, complex, and unique.
Next, make sure you enable the highest level of encryption which includes Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) or higher. Routers with older encryption protocols such as WPA or Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) are more susceptible to brute force attacks, where hackers will attempt to guess a person’s username and password through trial and error. WPA2 and higher encryption methods ensure that only authorized users can use your same network.
Lastly, create a guest network to segment your IoT devices from your more critical devices like laptops and mobile phones. If a hacker infiltrates your IoT devices, the damage is contained to the devices on that specific network.
2. Update Regularly
Updates are critical because they go beyond regular bug fixes and algorithmic tweaks to adjust device software vulnerabilities.
Make it a point to stay on top of updates from your device manufacturer, especially since they will not always advertise their availability. Visit their website regularly to ensure you do not miss pertinent news or information that may impact you. Additionally, make sure to update the app corresponding to your IoT device. Go into your settings and schedule regular updates automatically, so you do not have to update manually.
3. Do Your Research
Do your research before making a significant investment in an IoT device. Ask yourself if these devices are from a reputable vendor. Have they had previous data breaches in the past, or do they have a grade A track record for providing high-security products?
Also, take note of the information your IoT device collects, how vendors use this information and what they release to other users or third parties. Do they have privacy policies in place to protect their users’ data under PIPEDA regulation?
Above all, understand what control you have over your privacy and information usage. It is a good sign if an IoT device allows you to opt-out of having your information collected or lets you access and delete the data it does collect
4. Disable Unnecessary Features
Next time you go for a run with geolocation activated on your smartwatch, think again about what risks this poses to your virtual security and even your physical safety. Enhance your security by only enabling the features that are necessary to optimize your fitness performance. In doing so, you ensure that hackers cannot utilize them as a foothold to invade your privacy.
Step Up Your Security Game
IoT devices have made in-home exercise routines possible, given their increase in availability and ease of use. However, despite their capabilities for optimizing the fitness experience, the nature of these devices has made them one of many threats to personal privacy and online safety. For an elevated fitness experience beyond a great workout, start securing your IoT devices to integrate them into your everyday exercise routine safely.
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