How safe are your appliances?

Interconnected home appliances are part of the rapidly growing “Internet of Things”, but how safe are they?

The great wireless hook-up may connect home appliances but also poses risks.

Updated 9 September 2016

What’s become known as the "Internet of Things" (IoT) just keeps growing. It refers to everyday objects being embedded with unique identifiers and having the ability to send and receive data over a network. IoT has evolved from the convergence of wireless technologies and the internet. But now attention is turning to how to manage it safely as well as functionally.

According to International Data Corporation (IDC), worldwide spending on IoT will grow at a 17 per cent compound annual growth rate from US$689.6 billion in 2015 to nearly US$1.3 trillion in 2019. Notably, more than 40 percent of the worldwide total currently comes from the Asia-Pacific region.

The big spenders initially are Japan, Korea, Australia, Singapore and China, particularly in consumer technology, manufacturing and healthcare. Other industries are expected to also embrace IoT, so long as the security issues are addressed.

According to another study conducted by consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, Australia is likely to be one of the main countries leading implementation in the region – with 80 billion devices expected to be connected by 2020 – giving businesses, telecommunications companies and internet service providers a deluge of data to store and protect.

When 1650 tech-savvy homeowners in 11 countries were surveyed on their perceived issues on IoT for network security company Fortinet, the majority voiced concerns that a connected appliance could result in a breach of sensitive, personal information.

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More than 60 per cent of participants in China identified data loss or exposure as the biggest potential risk from a connected home.

This issue was also top of mind for 55 per cent of Malaysian, 53 per cent of Thai and just over half of Australian participants.

Unauthorised access was the second biggest worry, except in Thailand and China, where “hacktivist” pranks and malware were found to rank higher in the list of concerns.

IoT promises many very worthwhile benefits, says Gary Gardiner, Fortinet’s director of engineering in Australia and New Zealand, and successful vendors will be those who ensure integrity is balanced with price and functionality.

“Crossing these hurdles will require clever application of various security technologies, including remote connection authentication, virtual private networks between end-users and their connected homes, malware and ‘botnet’ protection [to guard against internet-connected computers being used to forward spam, without their owners’ knowledge],” he says.

Application security on the premises, in the cloud and as an integrated solution by device manufacturers will also be vital.

Gardiner advises businesses to consider information and systems being used and shared that were previously not accessible from the internet.

“There is an increasing need to analyse the risk each additional activity brings to the network and how to secure the business’s data from external and internal threats,” he urges.

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