The Internet of Things. Sounds like a science fiction title, doesn’t it?
That couldn’t be further from the truth, but it’s an understandable mistake. According to a recent survey, less than 20% of consumers really know what “The Internet of Things” (IoT) means—yet nearly 70% own at least one IoT device.
In this article, I’ll break down exactly what the Internet of Things is, and then fill you in on why leading experts are worried for the future of this infant industry.
So, what does IoT mean?
The Internet of Things centers around the concept of connecting everyday items—everything from your headphones to your home security system—to make life easier. If you have an appliance that could benefit from being connected to the Web, chances are, it already has been. If not, it will be soon: analysts predict that by 2020, there will be over 26 billion connected devices.
The future of IoT seems to be a bright one. Already, we’ve seen that automating mundane tasks saves us from a world of inconveniences every day. As the Internet of Things flourishes in the coming years, it’ll be difficult to even imagine the innovation ahead of us.
A Weak Spot in Your Digital Network
However, be careful: with that many different devices connected into one home network, you open yourself up to malware threats like never before.
This is because a lot of the auxiliary devices that comprise the Internet of Things aren’t made with particular attention to security. “Smart” devices are marketed to be cheap additions that make daily life easier. Because they’re so inexpensive, regular security patches and software maintenance aren’t commonplace. This, in turn, makes IoT devices much easier pickings for ill-intentioned hackers than your cell phone or laptop.
You might be wondering why you should care. After all, does it really matter if someone can see your driveway or know what’s in your fridge?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. (With the Internet, things rarely are.)
A recent study has shown that roughly half of the consumers are moderate to extremely concerned about privacy concerns related to the Internet of Things. And they’re absolutely right to be worried: botnets are emerging as the newest massive security threat.
What is a Botnet?
A botnet, simply put, is a large group of internet-enabled devices that have been compromised by a hacker. Hackers have used botnets to spy on unknowing consumers, steal sensitive data, take down major websites, and much, much more.
Just this week, a botnet “bricked” (or rendered completely useless) thousands of devices within hours. The only fix for these devices is to manually reinstall the affected devices’ firmware—a task that’s way out of the average person’s skill set. It’s likely that many will just throw out their devices, thinking they failed due to a hardware issue.
Are you wondering who caused all of that destruction? The culprit was “Light Leafeon,” an anonymous fourteen-year-old boy, who stated that he began the project as a joke.
The Mirai botnet is another example of a dangerous malware that used IoT as a foothold into consumers’ computers. In 2016, it used its massive legion of corrupted devices to flood the DNS provider Dyn. As a result, it took down major sites like CNN, Twitter, Spotify, Netflix, and much, much more. It also took down the entire country of Liberia.
Needless to say, botnets are major threats in cybersecurity today. With them, hackers can steal enormous volumes of sensitive data and crash even the most mainstream sites. Luckily, there are things you can do to keep you, your sensitive information, and your devices safe.
How to Protect Yourself
First, make sure to change the default settings on any new IoT device you add to your network. If even one device on your network is compromised, it makes it much easier for hackers to control the rest of your devices. Also, use strong passwords—don’t make it any easier for the hacker to get into your network.
In addition, monitor your network for suspicious activity, and check your internet speeds regularly. For the latter, use a speed test that has been proven to be effective. A reliable test will let you know if your devices are multitasking without your knowledge.
If Your Device is Compromised
First, don’t panic. It’s very difficult to tell if a botnet is running on your system, but look for these key warning signs:
If your computer running slower than normal?
Are there random error messages?
Is your browser closing unexpectedly?
Are you noticing oddly high network usage?
Of course, although these are indicative of a botnet, these symptoms may be due to a completely different issue. If you’re suspicious, it’s best to take your device to a professional before wiping your entire computer—which, unfortunately, is the only solution to being compromised by a botnet.
The Internet of Things is full of opportunities. Virtual assistants, “smart” security devices, and more have made our lives easier in so many little ways.
However, the IoT also creates a perfect opportunity for hackers. Make sure you keep yourself safe by staying vigilant—you don’t want to be the latest victim (and unwitting accomplice!) of a malicious botnet.
Emily Jacobs is Happiness Ambassador for SpeedCheck.org She loves to write the latest technology trends and love to share her knowledge through her articles.