Are your smart gadgets safe from malware?

Stay smart about the threats to all of your devices

a person using a smartphone

Tuesday, 10 September, 2019

Anyone who streams media should be aware that hackers are now targeting Android set-top boxes, in a bid to crack home internet networks.

Sales of media streaming devices have exploded in the last year or so, as has the Internet of Things (IoT).

Criminals have developed malware for set-top boxes just as sales surge, and it seems the risk to all broadband-connected gadgets is growing fast.

The threat is real

Of course, malware attacks on the IoT are nothing new.

In 2016, the Mirai botnet infected hundreds of thousands of gadgets, and infections remained widespread a full year later.

Many claimed that the gradual death of Mirai had more to do with its own fragility (it could not survive reboots) than any security improvements.

And since then, malware aimed at the IoT seems to have become increasingly dangerous.

Around seven billion smart gadgets were connected to the Internet in 2018, while the number of devices sporting online connectivity is expected to reach 21 billion by 2025.

We will end up relying on IoT technology to secure and maintain our homes, to communicate with the outside world, and to enjoy device synchronisation and automatic updates.

Yet it seems all too often, security comes low down on the list of manufacturers’ priorities.

That makes home devices a perfect vector for ransomware, spyware and viruses. But if smart gadgets pose a threat, what should their owners do?

Top targets, simple steps

Hackers increasingly target routers, cameras and other connected items because they often have limited security features. Some have none at all.

Add to that the tendency of owners to use default or easily-guessed passwords, and any smart gadget can act as an open door to unwelcome guests.

Insecure items are now flooding onto a hungry market, leaving millions of people exposed. Yet everyone with smart tech can take steps to protect themselves and their families.

Some of these are obvious, like changing default passwords to stronger alternatives and keeping software up to date. Using “password” as a password is neither big nor clever.

However, there are also precautions with particular relevance to smart devices.

Wherever possible, consumers should disable remote access and any unused functionality on anything connected to their home broadband.

It’s highly advisable to install reliable anti-virus software that updates remotely in real time, using multi-factor authentication wherever possible to lock down security settings.

Broadband providers can add security

Broadband providers may offer extra help with this problem. Several big companies include network security software in their broadband packages.

These protect the entire network and all connected devices by blocking threats, providing parental controls and activating threat warnings if they detect anything untoward.

However, consumers would surely be much happier if smart gadgets were secure from the outset.

Several studies have pointed out missed opportunities to enhance safety at various points of the manufacturing process.

Improvements seem to be taking a long time, despite the fact security vulnerabilities represent bad news for manufacturers and buyers alike.

Fears around hacking and data theft are holding businesses back from buying connected equipment.

Many executives are worried that smart devices could leave their company open to malware attack and massive losses. This almost certainly applies to the consumer market, too.

Hopefully it won’t be long until all online devices are built with safety in mind. Until then, owners of smart gadgets must stay vigilant.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!