We now have dozens of smart devices in our houses and even on our bodies. They improve our lives in so many ways – from lowering energy consumption in our homes to egging us on to be active.
But these smart devices respond to whatever commands they are given: we’ve had security experts demonstrate how cars can be hijacked remotely and medical devices in your body can be hacked and turned into lethal weapons. These risks are now well-recognized by technology developers, and there is a great deal of excellent work going on toward how to avoid them.
But there are other dangers we should be more concerned about that are getting less attention. Your gadgets could be providing a window that any hacker could see right through to spy on you.
Your stuff is surveilling you
Your laptop has a video camera built into it. When it’s recording, a little green light blinks on so you’re aware you’re being recorded. But it can be instructed to videotape your activities without the green camera light being on. And this is not just an in-laboratory warning of a hypothetical danger; it has actually been done, by over-eager school officials and by peeping Toms.
At least you can turn off your laptop: when it is shut, the camera can see only “the other side” of the laptop. But this quick fix doesn’t apply to sound recording devices, like microphones. For example, your phone could listen to conversations in the room even when it appears to be off. So could your TV, or other smart appliances in your home. Some gadgets – such as Amazon’s Echo – are explicitly designed to be voice activated and constantly at the ready to act on your spoken commands.