2023, July 30
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Security
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8 min read
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Matt S.

IoT Devices in 2023: Are They Safe To Use?

IoT (Internet of Things) devices are interconnected gadgets that can collect and exchange data with other devices over the internet without human involvement.

The IoT or Internet of Things has changed our daily lives quite a bit. The number of IoT devices that are used worldwide is currently around 15 - 17 billion. And with that figure growing each year, it seems that this tech is just going to become more significant.
So, as we’re surrounded by interconnected devices, it makes our lives more convenient and comfortable. Millions of us use smart home assistants, smart health trackers, smart home appliances, and lots of others to help out with homemaking, cleaning, working out and so much more. However, as technology evolves, security risks emerge. So, cybersecurity experts and government institutions are warning about the possibility of exploits and hacks through the Internet of Things. So, in this article, we will address those warnings and answer whether IoT devices are safe to use in 2023.

What is IoT (Internet of Things)?

First things first. Maybe you’ve just heard the acronym IoT but aren’t totally familiar with how it works, what it does, and so on. To help you understand, check out the image below.
This artwork explains and shows the implementation of IoT devices and where we can find manifestations of it around the world.
When we think about the internet, we usually only imagine PCs, tablets, laptops, and smartphones along with consoles and modern TVs as being the handful of select few devices that can access the internet and benefit from it. Yet, with the emergence of SMART technology, pretty much every device can access the internet and benefit from it. And if a user is able to control and/or interact with a particular device that connects to the internet, it is considered a part of IoT.
As the tech giant Oracle explains:
The Internet of Things (IoT) describes the network of physical objects—“things”—that are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems over the Internet. These devices range from ordinary household objects to sophisticated industrial tools.

Examples of IoT devices

In order to better understand the scope of this tech, you might benefit from knowing some IoT device examples. All of these devices and the whole IoT network can be categorized into smaller groups by deployment and use purpose.
  • Infrastructure IoT – everything used in smart cities and smart neighborhoods (sensors for infrastructure maintenance, system management, etc.)
  • IoMT or military purpose – used in training or battlefields (usually military-grade robots, devices monitoring biometric data, etc.)
  • Commercial IoT – these include devices that are used in industries (most commonly healthcare and transport) for the benefit of mass consumer segments.
  • Consumer IoT – smart home tech, voice assistants, smart lights, etc.
  • IIoT – Industrial Internet of Things encompasses devices used in factories, power plants, etc.
Most of us are familiar with consumer IoT devices. These can include smart doorbells, smart/robot vacuums, smart fridges, smart baby monitors, motion sensors, smart locks, etc. The image below does a great job illustrating some common examples.
To know whether an item is an IoT device or not, just look at its specs. If you can control, monitor it remotely via a phone app, it is an IoT device.

Why is security a risk when it comes to IoT devices?

So, as you now know what are IoT devices and what are their applications, you might be wondering why there are growing concerns associated with their security.
One thing to note here is the huge attack surface that hackers can target (Read more). An attack surface is the total number of points that a hacker can use to attack the system. The more points there are, the more resources and maintenance are needed to protect the whole system.
With the vastness of the attack's surface, data privacy is at risk. IoT devices collect vast amounts of personal information. If there are no proper encryption and security protocols, this data could fall into the wrong hands. Not all device manufacturers and app developers spend enough time and resources on creating robust mobile applications and server infrastructure to protect the private data of users.
Another growing concern is device hijacking. Cybercriminals can exploit vulnerabilities in IoT devices to gain unauthorized access, potentially leading to misuse, surveillance, or even disruption of essential services. For households, the most common problem is either a nuisance or a hacker using the IoT device as a gateway to Wi-Fi networks and computers/smartphones. One woman in Grovetown, Georgia, reported that someone hacked into her IoT network and:
  • Turned off CCTV cameras
  • Defrosted her refrigerator
  • Turned on the washer and dryer.
Look at the image below and you can see the most common goals of hackers who attack IoT devices (Read more).

The Situation in 2023 – what you should know about IoT devices

In 2023, most IoT device manufacturers are aware of what we’re talking about in this article. They’re doing more and prioritizing security. An example is the implementation of biometric authentication and multi-factor authentication which ensures that only authorized individuals can access the devices and their data. This extra layer of security significantly reduces the risk of unauthorized access. So much so that Cybercrime Magazine says that MFA alone can stop 30 to 50 % of cyber-attacks. It may not be almighty, but it’s pretty effective, still.
Moreover, manufacturers are also installing and including blockchain technology to establish tamper-resistant and decentralized authentication protocols. Blockchain provides an unchangeable record of device interactions and action tracking. This makes it harder and sometimes impossible for malicious actors to manipulate the system.
The year 2023 is also synonymous with AI (Artificial Intelligence). This technology also plays a major part in helping protect IoT systems and infrastructure. These solutions are still in the infant stages but expect them to become much more widespread over years to come. Powerful AI algorithms can detect anomalies, issues, and potential hacks to inform system administrators, and users or implement auto-safety measures against attacks. There are also other things worth noting:
  • Governments and tech regulators are getting much more stringent with IoT device manufacturers and system administrators. Each month stricter guidelines emerge and they must be followed.
  • Most IoT device manufacturers are starting to implement some kind of data encryption protocol. This is the safest way to protect all sorts of data. Skyda Messenger also encrypts your chats, for example, so that no one in the middle can intercept and read what you say.
  • Manufacturers allow you to opt out of certain data sharing and collection.
  • Most of these devices have friendly UIs that not just make it simple to maximize the device’s potential but also educate users about safe practices, data privacy & security.
Of course, this all depends on particular manufacturers and their practices. You should also know how to control and secure your IoT devices in a way that minimizes your risks. Speaking of that…

Tips for safe use of IoT devices in 2023

Not all IoT devices are equally vulnerable. Some devices may have stronger security technology, while others might be the hacker’s top priority. It's crucial to research and choose devices from reputable manufacturers with a strong security track record. However, it’s also important to know what you can do in order to avoid risks and damages from attacks by threat actors.

MFA

As mentioned before, MFA or 2FA greatly reduces the risk of all types of hacking attacks.

Great, strong, long password

People don’t need too much-written explanation in order to see just how important a safe password is.
The chart properly illustrates just how impactful a strong password is.

OTA (Over-the-Air) updates

IoT devices do require frequent software updates. Most of these devices are compatible with Over-the-Air (OTA) updates. This means that you don’t need physical connections or intervention to do it. Such a solution is crucial as it allows manufacturers to deploy security patches and fixes without any difficulties or obstacles.

Limit or avoid third-party plug-ins, installs from external sources

Even though some sites may offer you free premium features, always trust the official app stores. By downloading an unofficially hosted file you just needlessly increase the risk of potential exploits.

You can connect your IoT devices to a separate network

As we mentioned previously, hackers usually find a weak point within the attack surface and penetrate the whole network. This is why cybersecurity experts recommend creating a whole new, separate Wi-Fi network that would house all of your IoT devices. Your smartphone, PC, and laptop should use a separate network to minimize risk.
Forbes has a cool guide on this that you can read if you want to know more about securing IoT devices (Read more).

Summary

So, in general, IoT devices are still safe to use in 2023. However, at the same time, you have great cybersecurity concerns that you need to know and think about in order to stay safe. The information that we’ve put in this article should hopefully allow you to do so. And if you’re concerned about your digital privacy and security, also check out Skyda – the secure messenger app for end-to-end encrypted communications online.

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