Cybersecurity and privacy have become commonly used words in today’s world, due to the integration of technology into the very fabric of our lives. Wherever you go and whatever you do – riding public transit home, hiking a mountain or lazing about on the beach – there is a high probability that you will encounter someone fixated on a small screen interacting with a digital world.
We are living during one of the most exciting times in history, the digital revolution. As with all revolutions, there are risks, concerns and considerations. Take, for example, the Industrial Revolution – there was risk of reduced demand for skilled workers, and the power loom added significant physical risk to the operator. The expectation was that machines would eliminate jobs and that safety would be an issue. The same, but in a slightly different context, can be said of the digital revolution we are currently experiencing.
People and society evolve; they adapt to the changes in the environment and address the challenges that come with it. In 2004, Facebook started social networking and then in 2007 Apple released the iPhone; both are examples of the rapid integration of the digital revolution into our everyday lives. Is it truly expected that we can understand and appreciate the risks and dangers in this fast-moving revolution? History demonstrates that it takes time to understand and develop the skills to adapt and reduce risk.
National Cybersecurity Awareness Month is dedicated to helping us learn how to integrate technology into our lives and to stay safe and secure while doing so. Take a moment to look around your home or office and call out the devices that are connected; it may surprise you just how many there are and what functions they are fulfilling. We, ESET, recently conducted a survey, and it probably will not be surprising that 45 percent of respondents confirmed they have up to five connected devices in their home and 8 percent admitted to having more than 15.
When you sit down to watch a favorite TV show tonight, will you be streaming it? If using a connected TV, are you concerned that cybercriminals could be targeting your TV? If yes, then you are in an elite group of just 21 percent of respondents. Yet, the risk is real: many connected TVs run operating systems that can be infected with malware. For example, your TV could be used to mine cryptocurrency or send spam while in standby without your knowledge.
The convenience of digital assistants is also sweeping the nation, with one in four respondents responding they have indulged in a digital assistant. The always-listening device has caused some to be concerned, though, with 23 percent noting that they are “concerned” the device is listening or recording them.
All of these connected gadgets ̶ phones, tablets, PCs or Internet of Things (IoT) devices ̶ connect to the internet through the household router, which is often offered by a cable provider. The same cable provider that provides public Wi-Fi, through a segmented part of routers located in people’s homes. While 50 percent of survey respondents confirmed their router is not being used for public Wi-Fi, 35 percent said they did not even know whether it is or is not being used in such a manner.
The router is the conduit to the outside digital world and protecting it from cybercriminals should be a top priority, yet, 58 percent indicated they have not changed the password or know if it remains set to the default one when it was acquired. The default passwords that manufacturers set on routers are well known to savvy technology users, and cybercriminals continue to use this easy method for gaining access to home networks.
Securing the technology in our homes should be a primary concern, but as our survey demonstrates, this is not always the case. Our desire to plug in and enjoy connected devices appears to outweigh the time and effort needed to ensure they do not compromise our security or privacy. The issue will undoubtedly gain momentum as we connect more devices. The next time you purchase a device, please pride yourself in joining an elite group of just 18 percent respondents and ensure that it has encryption features (and, if you research the device to ensure it has no known security or privacy issues, then join an even more exclusive group of just 14 percent).
These statistics from our survey highlight the need for further awareness and engagement and the need for us to adapt safely and securely in the digital revolution. I want to leave you with a more positive stat – 70 percent of parents worry about the security and privacy of devices their children use. This concern will hopefully drive change as parents inherently take action to protect their children.
My call to action for you during National Cybersecurity Awareness Month is simple: take a step back; look at what’s connected; understand what data is being collected or shared; change a password (or two); research the devices connected for known issues and, in summary, audit your connected world to make certain that your evolution in the digital age goes without hindrance. As our partners at the National Cyber Security Alliance advise, Own IT. Secure IT. Protect IT.