Just imagine your reaction when you find out that the feed from the security camera inside your home has been broadcast online. A few weeks back, an incident in Australia brought the privacy debate back on the table when private camera feeds from several Australian households were streamed online. The embarrassment and trauma triggered by the incident are unimaginable as unsuspecting IoT devices were turned into victims of a malicious hacking attempt.

ABC report revealed the incident of Australian security cameras being hacked and live streamed on a Russian website. Hackers got access to most of the cameras that were never secured by their owners. Surprisingly, some secured cameras were also hacked into, triggering concerns around the globe about IoT security.

IoT threat perception and privacy paradox

Every well-informed internet user is concerned about privacy threats from IoT devices and is even ready to sacrifice convenience for security. Any digital device connected to the internet is known as the Internet of Things or IoT devices. All these devices can be easily controlled and remotely monitored by their owners. IoT devices are expected to reach 75.44 billion by 2025, which is 146% higher from 2020.

IoT network is spread across the globe, and all the interconnected devices can communicate with one another over the internet. IoT devices include wearable tech, appliances, and smart devices. Now, if any of the devices get hacked, chances are very high that all other IoT devices connected with it can be remotely accessed and controlled by the hackers.  However, there’s still a fraction of users who are not concerned about the threat posed by the IoT devices. Even though they worry about privacy, they can’t afford to give up on these devices. Luckily, not all protective measures are costly and completely unaffordable.

This particular phenomenon has been termed as the privacy paradox wherein even though users are worried about their privacy, they fail to act upon them. These users often divulge all their personal information for availing the services or in exchange for the convenience.

There are many reasons for this privacy paradox. However, some of the most convincing ones are as follows:

• It’s difficult for users of IoT devices to attach a certain value to privacy, which is why they don’t take it too seriously;

• People often don’t find the need to secure their privacy because they continue to believe that their data has no significant value to hackers;

• The lack of awareness about privacy issues and the right to privacy often acts as a blindfold for users.

IoT devices are popular for data harvesting

Many studies have revealed that people often ignore going through the privacy policy before installing apps on their smartphones or other devices. Now, apps used to remotely control IoT devices often gain access to contacts, camera, microphone, and other components.

Suppose the app maker or a hacker intends to harvest data from the connected smartphones. In that case, there’s no legal ground to prevent them because it’s the user who has given access to the app without going through the privacy policy document.

Data harvesting is a reality, and you simply cannot ignore it because of the convenience offered by the IoT devices. Some apps will stop harvesting data after you deny access to specific data. However, more intrusive programs can continue stealing data even after such privacy changes are made. In 2019, a study revealed that over a thousand Android apps harvest data even after receiving instructions not to. So, this threat should discourage users from downloading apps from unknown sources or providers.

How to secure personal information and prevent hacks

Well, it’s crucial that before we start using IoT devices, we take every possible measure to secure our personal information and prevent leaks when it comes to privacy. Here are some steps in the direction of securing privacy:

• You must thoroughly analyze the benefits and risks associated with a particular IoT device. Thus, it’s important to read the privacy policy and understand all the clauses before using the device.

• You must never trivialize your personal information and think that it’s of no use to anyone. Your digital information can be used for various nefarious activities and severely damage reputations and result in financial loss.

• Keep changing your password frequently and set stronger passwords for the IoT apps. Do not forget your internet network: manage router security, change passwords, apply encryption, etc.

• Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) on all your internet-connected devices, especially smartphones, tablets, and laptops, to prevent eavesdropping. Smart speakers have often been accused of eavesdropping, so it’s not worth taking the risk. Instead, install a VPN on IoT devices to encrypt traffic and make it unusable by the hackers.

It’s simply too much to ask of the IoT device manufacturers to make their devices foolproof. Instead, you must do your part to protect personal information. While companies do offer security enhancements, many people fail to take advantage of them. So, when you get a new device, consult specialists about how you can take care of them efficiently.