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Are Smart Devices the Next "Wild West" for Hackers?

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Are Smart Devices the Next "Wild West" for Hackers?

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Every kid, in North America at least, goes through a “Cowboys and Indians” faze. In your home, buried in a toy chest somewhere, there’s bound to be plastic bows, bandanas and cap gun revolvers. But whether you were a fan of John Wayne or The Lone Ranger, you eventually realized the Wild West wasn’t as glorious as the movies portrayed.

Uncomfortable clothing and sanitation aside, the Wild West wasn’t the greatest of places. For the most part, it was a lawless era, with rampant crime and theft. Small towns and settlements often lacked the resources necessary to protect their residents. And yet, like most historical trends, they never seem to die. It’s as if they always return in some new form or identity.  

Fast forward to today. We may not live on the outskirts of the American frontier, but we’re certainly exploring the far reaches of a digital world. The most recent example would have to be the wearable technology and Internet of Things (IoT) revolution. Suddenly, we have hundreds of thousands devices, soon to be millions and billions, that are constantly connected to the internet. But with new technology comes new problems. While this technology is impressive, is it creating a digital Wild West perfect for hackers and cybercriminals?

The Wearable Revolution

Last July, Android Wear hit the market with the release of the first two Android-powered smartwatches, the LG G Watch and the Samsung Gear Live. Even before that, fitness trackers were surfacing with products like Nike+iPod and the original Fitbit. Now we’re expecting the launch of the Apple Watch, and Microsoft is creating holographic goggles. There’s no doubt we’re experiencing a wearable revolution.

Sure, tracking your heartrate is great, and so is the ability to quickly access information on your wrist, but what security measures are implemented in the devices? What is keeping your information safe from a growing number of cyber bandits? Unfortunately, not much. These devices are designed with simplicity in mind. We want to unlock our devices with simple swipes and we demand simple, easy-to-use apps. We’re simultaneously creating user-friendly devices with gadgets more vulnerable to attackers.  

IoT in the Home

The internet connectivity of these wearable devices adds another layer of vulnerability. In fact, it isn’t just wearables and computers that are connecting to the internet. There’s a whole network of “smart” objects that are always online, normally referred to as IoT. Soon your toaster, fridge and car will all be online and sharing information with one another.

This information will also be shared with manufacturers and third-parties looking to learn how we use these devices. This provides another means whereby cybercriminals can access personal information. After all, these appliances don’t come with firewalls and antivirus software right now. It’s a scary thought, but now people can breakin into our homes without ever stepping near them. Smart devices seem great, but they could become a security nightmare.

Too Many Devices at Work

Returning to our Wild West analogy, we really see lawless and chaotic elements when we introduce all of these new devices into the workplace. BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) has grown increasingly more complicated. What was once all about using smartphones and tablets at work has now transformed into phablets, smartwatches, trackers and who knows what else. Having all these devices on a network presents a real challenge. It’s difficult to design a network and build BYOD security solutions with so much variance.  

Apple recently made headlines for security issues involving iCloud, but we also have other examples. A Romanian security firm demonstratedhow easy it can be to hackinto the bluetooth connection that links smartphones and smartwatches. In a work environment where every device interacts with each other, one compromised gadget is a threat to the entire network.

This isn’t meant to be a doomsday prediction. It’s simply important that we not rush too fast in our technology adoption. We need to make sure we understand what we’re using, and what limitations exist. We also need to know what information is being broadcasted and shared to third-parties, and how to protect ourselves. With wearables and IoT being so new,security measures are brand new as well. Manufacturers are trying to connect as many devices as possible without taking the time to develop capable security measures. Without the right controls and security measures in place, we can expect lawlessness and an environment made for cyber crime.  

Cisco is a software company. Surprised? Don’t be. Join DevNet to explore APIs, tools, and techniques that developers are using to add collaboration, IoT, security, network priority, and more!

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