Should you be afraid of the “internet of things?”

Just a few weeks ago, large chunks of the internet went down because of an attack. This in itself isn’t a huge news story, although for a short time millions of people were affected. The real story is how the attack took place. People who had unintentionally downloaded bad programs onto their PCs found that those programs infected other things in their homes, including their routers, their DVRs, and potentially other devices. Those devices all turned evil at the flip of a switch when someone — we don’t know who — decided to use them to attack servers that control traffic for some of the services we use every day. It sounds like science fiction, but it’s very real.

Editor’s note: to our knowledge, none of the devices used in the attack are sold at Solid Signal, and that includes DIRECTV and DISH DVRs, which were not believed to be part of the attack.

Should you be worried that your connected devices could be compromised? Personally I think you should. The idea of connected appliances has gotten much more popular in recent years and it’s easy to see why; who wouldn’t want to know if someone was at the door whilst at work, and who doesn’t love the idea of looking in the refrigerator from your phone to figure out if you need to buy milk? There are so many possibilities if you think about it. On the other hand, we all agree that when you’re connecting a device it has to be easy yet secure. Too many connected devices are insecure — they don’t have built-in safeguards to make sure that they can’t be used maliciously.

Most home security systems use a central server so that users don’t have to set up their own routers to make it possible to watch your cameras from your phone. That’s insecure — what if that central server was hacked? What if your phone was hacked? What if your smart washing machine was programmed to hack into your PC and find your financial records? With today’s technology, it’s all very possible.

Right now, you have some very tough decisions to make. If you do jump into the “internet of things” with both feet you’re probably building an insecure network and there’s a chance of hacking. If you wait until there’s more baked-in security, you’ll be sitting on the sidelines while other people enjoy the luxury of setting the thermostat from their office cubicles. There’s nothing in life that’s risk-free.

Personally, I think there are two kinds of risk and really you’re at the center of both. On the one hand there’s the idea that your connected devices could be used on an attack on someone else, and then the other side of that is that your connected devices could be used to steal your personal information. If you’re careful, there’s a pretty low risk of both.

The recent attack was made possible by people opening spammy emails and downloading malware. Simply, don’t do this. Use strong virus protection, current operating systems, and don’t open stuff that doesn’t look right. In most cases, a hacker can’t get into your computer if you don’t let him. It’s possible to hack into your wi-fi or internet and then try to take control of your PC, but it’s not common and unless you’re a high profile person, no one is going to be looking for your home internet.

You can also make sure that your financial records are stored offline, on flash drives or CDs, and not on your local hard drive — certainly not in cloud storage. Use common sense and imagine how easy it would be for someone to get at your personal information if they could actually walk in the front door. With that in mind, you can probably make yourself secure enough that you won’t have to worry about putting in a smart TV or internet-connected baby monitor. In time, we’ll all figure this out, but by thinking about what you’re doing, you will probably be just fine..

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.