Hackernoon logoWhat Are The Cybersecurity Risks Associated With Personal Devices? by@jasminekatz

What Are The Cybersecurity Risks Associated With Personal Devices?

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I’m a cybersecurity student with a great passion for the cyber world.

Cybersecurity is an ever-evolving industry. It tries to protect us from theft and personal damage by hackers and criminals but often is on the back foot as these malicious actors are innovative and determined.

In recent years, we've seen a tremendous surge in global connectivity and
increased cloud services used to store data and personal information.

Unfortunately, due to widespread weak defenses like zero-day exploits, lack of user awareness, and poor configuration, the number of successful data breaches and cyber-attacks is on the rise.

And it's not just one type of company getting hacked, everyone's getting
hacked; national elections, small companies, big companies, brands, media
organizations, tech companies, critical infrastructure, and plenty of regular
people such as you and me.

But it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. Digital devices connected
to the cloud are invading every part of our lives, the whole nine yards—your watch, your phone, AI assistant, Smart Home devices, etc.

All of these devices are connected via the cloud, which means that if just
one of them is compromised, hackers can access your entire livelihood

But it's not all doom and gloom. By becoming aware of the cyber risks, you face in our modern life, you can better prepare your defenses. Let's look at some of the most significant risks posed by your personal digital devices, and what we can do to boost your security. Ready to dive in?

Smart Home and AI Assistant

A Smart Home allows you to control your home using a smartphone, tablet, or smart speaker. You can control things like your lights, thermostats, and other connected appliances, usually through a wireless network. Thanks to faster broadband and internet services, which are more reliable and cheaper than ever before, plus improved Wi-Fi range, you can connect your entire house. 

AI assistants like Siri and Alexa are virtual or digital assistants who
understand your voice commands and perform tasks you set, such as scheduling meetings and appointments, creating automatic reminders, and making phone calls.

What are the threats?

It turns out that it's not malicious hackers you need to be worried about, but the companies behind the devices.

In 2019, Amazon admitted that employees were listening to voice recordings of users collected by their Alexa smart speakers. Amazon said they only listen to recordings where the AI was unable to understand the voice command. By correcting the transcript and feeding it back into the machine, they can help Alexa to understand users better. 

A similar situation occurred at Apple, as it was revealed that contractors
were listening to user interactions with Siri to grade it for several factors and determine whether the AI Assistance response was helpful.

How to protect yourself

Suppose you're using an Amazon smart device such as the Echo speaker. In that case, you can ask to stop your recordings from being used by the product development team and delete previous void recordings from the settings menu. But you can't opt-out of the voice recording entirely. 

If you're using Siri and are concerned about your privacy, there's
currently no way to opt-out or change your privacy settings like with Amazon. Your only option is to speak carefully around any device with Siri or stop using it completely.

Our phones are spying on us

Your phone is certainly spying on you, but not in the way you think. In 2019, Bloomberg published a story that claimed to reveal Facebook was listening and transcribing your audio conversations made through the Facebook Messenger App.

While this turned out to be true, Facebook said they were only doing this to users who opted in. Many news outlets went wild with accusations that Facebook was spying on you through your mic to place highly-targeted ads in Infront of you. The truth is, Facebook isn't listening to every word you say, because they don't have to. Let me explain why.

What are the threats?

This may be a hard pill to swallow, but Facebook doesn't need to listen to your audio to target you with ads. It already has access to so much data about your friends and family, that its algorithm can probably predict what you're going to talk about and serve an ad based on that.

Ever notice how sometimes you see an ad that has nothing to do with any of your interests? That's because it's not a perfect system; it still makes mistakes. These algorithms can crunch vast volumes of data taken from all over the place, not just Facebook.

How to protect yourself

There are steps you can take to stop the amount of data being shared between platforms by opting out of data sharing and data collection where possible. Still, most companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, etc. are tracking your every move wherever possible.

Mobile Phone Apps are hiding viruses and malware 

There are roughly around 3.5 billion active smartphones globally, and it's expected to increase to 3.8 by 2021.

With such a large number of users, it's a valuable target for hackers to try and take advantage of. And one of the best ways they can infiltrate your phone is through free apps. 

And these free apps don't cost you a cent for a reason. Mobile app creators are using you and your data to earn money. They're hiding malware and fraudulent ads and can access your list of contacts, pictures, data, and even take screenshots of your phone that they can either use or sell to another party.

Best practices for good security hygiene (not just on your
mobile phone)

Only install apps from known companies. Avoid any unknown developers and check reviews for negative comments from users.

Restrict all the unnecessary access to features on your phone an App doesn't need. There's usually no reason an app requires permission to your data, camera, phone, microphone, contacts, email contacts, messages, etc. Doing so only invites trouble, such as malware and adware.

Use two-factor authentication (2FA) everywhere you can. You can turn on 2FA in most apps and devices. It helps to keep your apps and data secure by asking for another authentication factor, such as a unique pin sent by SMS or generated by an app.

Keep your eyes open for any news and updates about apps and companies that were revealed to be spying on you and harvesting your data.


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