An increasingly connected world continues to change our lives for the better. In just the last few years, we’ve seen a surge of devices that make everyday life more convenient and, well, easier. The numbers are staggering, but probably not all that surprising. IDC predicts that more than 30 billion devices will be connected to networks globally by 2020.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is no longer the wave of the future. When it comes to mass adoption of IoT, the future is now. IoT is significantly more than devices controlling lights in homes or tracking your heart rate. Connected devices control robots in the manufacturing sector, improve utilities and water management systems, and they’re enabling more accurate and real-time medical treatments. Cars are increasingly connected, and smart cities are transforming how cities serve their citizens, use energy and preserve natural resources.
But as we connect more things, they naturally create the need for cybersecurity innovation. These days, hackers frequently find opportunities to use internet-connected devices to execute cyber attacks. IoT-related attacks are becoming more sophisticated, with cybercriminals developing and selling automated software designed to exploit security vulnerabilities. In fact, AT&T has seen a 3,198% increase in attackers scanning for vulnerabilities in IoT devices in the last three years.
As technology evolves, its influence on how we live, work and play will continue to grow. When you consider that each of those projected 30 billion smart devices is an endpoint that needs securing, each could be an opportunity for hackers to access sensitive information. It might not seem so urgent to lock down a device that counts the number of steps a person takes each day, but many are also tied to online accounts where personal data is often stored.
Because the world of IoT can bring so many tangible benefits to work and personal life, communications and technologies companies like AT&T are committing more resources than ever before to cybersecurity innovation. For example, AT&T recently founded the Internet of Things Cybersecurity Alliance, which brings together leaders in both IoT and cybersecurity to address the challenge at hand – securing IoT. Together with other industry leaders, we can tackle the top IoT security challenges our customers face and recommend a holistic security framework across the IoT ecosystem.
As the industry works vigorously to do their part, we encourage individuals to remain vigilant and take proactive steps to help ensure the security of all their connected devices. The most effective firewall is the person who owns and manages the technologies. Taking the three simple actions below can contribute to a safer IoT ecosystem and help users avoid becoming the next victim.
Get Savvy About Wi-Fi Networks
Connecting over unsecured Wi-Fi at coffee shops, restaurants, airports and other public locales can put a user’s data at risk. It may be convenient, but anyone who connects over unsecured networks to conduct business from their mobile devices risks getting scammed. Rogue Wi-Fi access points mimic the characteristics of trusted networks and spoof encryption security certificate credentials. That makes it easy for bad actors to intercept, change or steal data and passwords. Use virtual private networks (VPNs), your smartphone hotspot or known secure Wi-Fi networks instead.
Select PINs and Passwords Wisely
Many devices come out of the box with a default password, making it easier for the user to get started. The next step should always be to change the default password to something more complex and less predictable. The issue, of course, is that many people fail to take this step. Even when changing to long, complex passwords that require more effort and time for a hacker to crack, users still have to be smart about how they manage them. Many people still use the same password for everything or keep passwords written down next to their computers in lieu of using a highly-secure password manager. Changing these behaviors will decrease the risk of being hacked.
Enable Multi-Factor Authentication
It isn’t always an available option, but when it is, elect to use multi-factor authentication. Users can gain an extra measure of security beyond a username and a password by requiring additional authentication for any device that has access to the organization’s data. Strong authentication also helps resolve some of the issues associated with password protection, particularly the use of easy-to-guess passwords or excessive use of the same password.
IoT security issues will continue to arise unless we make a concerted, collective effort to address them. Only then can the innovations and enriching capabilities enabled by cutting-edge technologies reach their full potential.
About the Author
Chris Penrose is senior vice president of AT&T’s IoT organization. He has responsibility for leading AT&T’s worldwide IoT initiatives across industry verticals, including automotive, agriculture, manufacturing, fleet management, asset tracking, health care, drones, energy, smart cities, retail and consumer electronics. Mr. Penrose’s team operates on a global scale and drives the strategy and execution for highly secure connectivity, platforms, professional services and end-to-end IoT solutions. From connected cars to connected cities, he has led AT&T to become recognized as one of the leading IoT companies in the world. Penrose has also been recognized for championing innovation; he spearheaded the creation of the AT&T Drive Studio for connected vehicles, the AT&T Healthcare Foundry and the AT&T IoT Foundry, focused on making it easy for developers and businesses to create and implement IoT solutions.
With 27 years of experience at AT&T and its predecessor companies, Mr. Penrose has leadership expertise in strategic planning, business development, sales, marketing, distribution planning and customer service. He has a B.S. in marketing and a master’s degree in business administration from Indiana University. He is a member of the Consumer Electronics Association Wireless Division Board, the Federal Aviation Administration’s Drones Advisory Committee and the Kelley School of Business Advisory Board and serves as the chair of GSMA’s Connected Living Board. He is also a founder and executive advisory board member of the Together for Safer Roads coalition. He and his wife Anne live in Atlanta and have two children in college.