Enjoy connectivity without sacrificing safety

October 17th, 2022

The internet of things (IoT) composes a vast tapestry of worldwide connections. Countless devices, appliances, machinery and databases work in tandem to enable digitally-enhanced ways of living. Think Amazon's Echo or Google Home, a smart thermostat like Nest, or a Ring doorbell to name a few.

Though this offers a sophisticated method of streamlining smarter, more efficient daily tasks, it is not without its vulnerabilities, particularly regarding privacy. 

Consider how much of your life can be refined and distilled into data points for targeted advertisements: a surprising amount of innocuous activities paint a compelling picture of what products and services are applicable to your way of life. With the average household owning 22 connected devices, it can be tricky to ensure your smart devices don’t cross your boundaries to gather this info. 

For Week 3 of Cybersecurity Awareness Month, ASU Enterprise Technology is sharing three tips for staying safe and secure, all while enjoying what a connected life has to offer. 

  1. Be mindful of voice-operated devices and investigate when they’re programmed to listen in.
    Getting a quick news update from Siri or Alexa is as easy as calling their names. However, their attentive listening doesn’t begin and end with your beck and call. As reported by the New York Times, Alexa in particular is a device that never truly stops listening, with a microphone primed to pick up on keywords or phrases you frequently assign to it. Snippets of your conversations may be recorded, even if these recordings were triggered by Alexa mistaking idle chit-chat for commands. These same audio clips may be sent to Amazon transcribers, who then use them to assess and refine Alexa’s accuracy.

    You can mute or disable certain voice-activated services if you’re uncomfortable with their rules and triggers. Researching your devices’ privacy policies and audio recording rules is the first step to gauging whether you’ll be comfortable with its operations. Amazon in particular offers a guide to automatically deleting Alexa voice recordings, allowing users to leverage its convenient features while keeping their private talks private.
     
  2. Research whether your applications track your activity and for what reasons.
    Certain apps and software are designed to offer tailored advertisements to those whose data suggest receptiveness. They achieve this by tracking a user’s location and patterns across other apps and websites. A logged record of your digital maneuvers can be an unsettling thought, and even more so when the app tracking you has poor privacy policies and security standards.

    It is prudent to verify whether the apps you use track your data, how and to what extent they track you, and for what explicit purpose. For more information, including steps you can take to minimize online tracking, the Federal Trade Commission has compiled advice and step-by-step guides on their website.

  3. Don’t be afraid to forgo the “smart” model.
    Are you certain your refrigerator needs to have internet connectivity? On the one hand, it would be convenient for your fridge to track expiry dates for you. On the other hand, a simple turn of the milk jug will tell you straight away whether you’re safe to take a sip.

    Though “smart” models are rife with enjoyable features and enhancements, every device you connect to is another point of entry for a bad actor. While you can take steps to bolster your device security, one way of lessening the burden is to simply forgo the frivolous. The newest model of something will always be a tempting purchase, but your greatest concern should be whether it will offer tangible benefits that outweigh the risks, adding value to your life that doesn’t come at an unreasonable cost.

Interested in learning more about device safety? Visit GetProtected for additional tips on examining your tools and devices to ensure your privacy is preserved across each one.