Do you really need a smart toaster?

Even though you CAN buy it, you need to ask yourself if you really SHOULD you buy that Internet-connected appliance……..

Very few people would seriously consider this question before purchasing a brand new appliance or item that has all sorts of nifty and exciting ‘up-sell’ features, such as network or direct Internet-connectivity.

But for those of us who work in the computer and network security fields, this question is neither academic nor trivial.

It’s easy to understand why Internet-connected gadgets are tempting. Who wouldn’t want a dog collar with a GPS in it, in case Fido runs away? Who would turn down a tracking unit you could put in your child’s backpack in case they get lost or something more sinister happens? And who wouldn’t find some convenience in a video-capable home security system that was able to be monitored while you were at work?

The problem is that the security of these gadgets is questionable at best. Multinational, experienced software companies, such as Microsoft and Apple, have entire divisions devoted to securing their software and hardware, and yet potential and actual compromises are announced almost on a weekly basis. Most corporations have IT security teams who monitor and test systems on a regular basis but we read about corporate breaches almost daily.

In light of those observations, can we really trust the manufacturing company that creates a product that allows you to keep track of your child or pet via an Internet-based website? How do we know they’re performing due diligence to keep the location of your child safe? How can you be assured that a potential burglar isn’t watching for the next time you kennel your pets, giving them a good idea when you’re out of town? And who’s monitoring the log data to be sure that your home security system wasn’t shut down remotely for a brief period today and then reactivated? Or who’s making sure that your “private” video feed into your house isn’t quite so private after all?

Sometimes it pays to be a little paranoid and cautious. When purchasing a product with a network connection, do some due diligence. First, ask yourself if you really need it. Is it going to simplify your life or bring a reward that’s worth the risk? Second, do a little research. Find manufacturers with a proven track record or maybe those who have partnered with a security-conscious company. And above all, be careful. Be aware of what you have and practice common sense security precautions – change passwords, watch for anomalous behavior, and review and apply software updates.