5 ways smart devices can compromise your privacy

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(Image credit: Future)
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Utilize the best antivirus software to protect yourself against unwanted surveillance and data breaches. For even more security, get the best VPN to mask your IP address, which makes it difficult for infiltrators to locate you and track your internet activities back to you. 

Smart devices are internet-connected devices, and they include everything from smartphones and tablets to home security cameras, refrigerators, and doorbells. Most of these devices can be controlled remotely or through voice commands that make everyday tasks easier.

However, this connectivity and convenience come at a cost. If an intruder finds their way into a smart home device of yours, they can compromise it and use it as a breeding ground for malware and ransomware attacks. They may even be able to deploy spyware to keep an eye on you through your house’s security camera, listen to you through your devices’ voice assistants, steal data, or track your location. 

Read on to learn more about how smart devices can be a real threat to your privacy. 

1. Location tracking  

Smart devices often come with location-tracking features, which can be used to create a detailed profile of your movements and routines. These details can be exploited if they fall into the wrong hands. 

Smart devices like smartphones and smartwatches will constantly update your location and might sell your data to third parties without your knowledge or consent. For example, advertisers can use your location to target you with location-specific ads, which some may consider an infringement of privacy. 

Beyond this, if this data gets hacked or is breached, sensitive information about your address or personal life could be exposed, leading to unauthorized surveillance, stalking, or even physical threats.

Solution: you can disable location services on your smartphone by playing around with the settings. Other steps you can take for even more protection include using a private browser, avoiding public Wi-Fi networks, using a VPN and/or malware protection service, deleting unfamiliar apps, and in extreme cases, locking your SIM card.

2. Data breach and identity theft 

Unprotected smart devices like wearables, home security systems, and smart appliances store sensitive data and are easy targets for hackers. These systems lack strong passwords, encrypted data transmission, and security updates, making it easier for cybercriminals to access the information stored within the smart devices. 

This information can include your address, financial details, or even biometric data, which, once accessed, can lead to data and identity theft. For example, smart devices like cameras or voice assistants might save data like your voice and fingerprints, which can be exploited by malicious actors.

Solution: you can use an identity theft protection service to prevent your personal information from being compromised, and a router VPN is a simple way of protecting any device connected to your network.

3. Real-time recording 

Smart devices like voice assistants, cameras, or wearable tech are equipped with real-time recording features, which can raise concerns about personal data exposure. 

Voice assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant listen to your commands and comments. While they are designed to activate only after hearing the prompts, they also record the conversation right after and before the activation

These recordings are often stored in their remote servers, which can be assessed by third parties or hackers in case of a breach. Similarly, breached smart cameras will continuously capture footage. Hackers can easily access your live feeds and daily routines if the device lacks robust security measures.

Solution: for most recording devices like Alexa, you can go into their settings and disable voice recording. For cameras or any other tech device with a lens, I'd recommend taking proactive measures to cover their lenses with a lid or a piece of cloth when they're not in use.

4. Targeted attacks 

These devices store a lot of your personal data, some with your permission and some unknowingly. If your devices are unprotected, hackers can steal this data to launch targeted attacks or fraudulent schemes. 

For example, If a hacker discovers that one of your family members has any debts, they could send a fake request for money on their behalf. Additionally, targeted attacks also exploit the interconnected nature of smart devices. 

So, if the attacker gains access to one device in a network, they’ll use it as a gateway to infiltrate other connected devices. This can cause a domino effect where multiple smart devices in your home are compromised, posing a serious threat to the security and privacy of your whole family.

Solution: beyond good password hygiene and general safety around you personal info, it's essential to be wary of any text, email or phone call that's asking for your personal info – especially when it comes to money. Always head to a app yourself rather than tapping on a link to open it, and generally ignore any unsolicited messages requesting any kind of personal information.

5. Ransomware 

With ransomware, a hacker can restrict your access to your devices. However, like other cases, they won’t destroy your data; instead, they demand a ransom in exchange for it. 

So, you eventually end up paying the ransom to access your device. This not only compromises your privacy and security but also causes you emotional distress and sometimes even reputational damage. 

Ransomware actors can exploit encrypted files embedded in phishing emails, locking systems, unsecured programs, unsafe online ads, poorly secured devices, free software downloads, and games. These vulnerabilities can be targeted on various connected devices and different operating systems, such as Windows, Android, and Linux.

Solution: the best way to stay protected from targeted attacks – ransomware or otherwise – is to use top-shelf antivirus software, and it may be wise to opt for one that also comes with anti-phishing tools.

Read more about how ransomware trends point to an upcoming state of chaos for cybersecurity experts

The bottom line 

Smart devices can be a great addition to your home, but you must also understand the risks that come with them. They can compromise your privacy in many ways, including targeted attacks, location tracking, real-time recording, and so on. 

Moreover, vulnerabilities in your connectivity solution can leave your devices, data, and family or customers exposed to cyber-attacks. You can protect your privacy by understanding the risks and taking necessary security measures. Early intrusion detection is the most effective way to prevent cyber-attacks, and this still holds true in the IoT era.

Krishi Chowdhary

Krishi is a VPN writer covering buying guides, how-to's, and other cybersecurity content here at Tom's Guide. His expertise lies in reviewing products and software, from VPNs, online browsers, and antivirus solutions to smartphones and laptops. As a tech fanatic, Krishi also loves writing about the latest happenings in the world of cybersecurity, AI, and software.