Thousands of devices are being connected to the Internet every day. This growing ‘Internet of Things’ is a major step forward for society, but there are concerns over how safe it will be for consumers.

Some time ago a photo appeared to show how you could hack speed camera records by strapping database code to your car. A geeky prank, perhaps, but the image highlighted a growing problem: hackers can now break into almost anything.

This concern is growing daily with the Internet of Things (IoT), which involves connecting everyday objects to computer networks. Hailed as the next big thing for IT, with 23.3 billion devices due to be connected by 2019, the IoT only has one snag: it might not be safe. 

 “A core issue is that most of these systems are built around assuming the information they receive and subsequently analyse is true and unaltered,” warns Reuven Harrison, Chief Technology Officer and co-founder of the network security company Tufin.

 “In this way, a hacker could feed traffic control systems with fake data, making them accept incorrect options when setting configuration and timing on traffic lights, ramp meters, traffic signals and so on.”

Sensors that could be hacked

Tufin says research at the beginning of this year had uncovered 200,000 sensors worldwide that could be hacked.

Ex-ethical hacker Jason Hart, who is now vice president of cloud solutions at Dutch digital security firm Gemalto, says: “We’re already too late in addressing the problem. Things are not being done properly.”

The big problem is that owners of major computer systems are already struggling to fight off attacks from hackers, and they have been working for decades to get it right.

The manufacturers of most IoT-connected devices, in contrast, have no such history of threat protection. So they do not know what they are up against.

Thinking like a bad guy

Hart, who lives in a rural area, tells of a neighbour with a new tractor that comes with an Internet connection. This allows the farmer to access data that will help to increase their yield.

 “But also, thinking like a bad guy, once I can compromise the integrity of that data I can affect the commodity market,” Hart says.  

 If that sounds bad, then worse still is the fact that the IoT is being used to build entire ‘smart cities’, where everything from utility supplies to video-surveillance is linked to the Internet.

 “The reality is, any connected solution is prone to hacking, and smart cities must operate under the assumption that they, at some point, will get hacked,” says Dima Tokar, co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of MachNation, an analyst firm dedicated to IoT.

 “It's not a question of if, but when.”

 For consumers, the message is clear: IoT could open up many new opportunities, but users will need to be on their guard. This applies especially to online payment systems, since these are likely to be the ones that hackers are most keen to break into.
The message is the same for payment processes, too: security is paramount. 
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