Whole Village’s Broadband Stopped By an Old TV

An anonymous person living in the village of Aberhosan, Powys, was found to have caused broadband outages for the whole village for the last 18 months every time they switched on their old television.

Investigation

An exhaustive investigation by frustrated Openreach engineers found that the disruption to broadband for the whole village, which mysteriously began at 7 am each morning, the time when the villager turned the TV on, led to the replacement of broadband cables in the village before the TV was singled out as the culprit.

SHINE

The engineers used a spectrum analyser to identify the single high-level impulse noise (SHINE) that was emitted from an old, second-hand TV when it was switched on every morning at the same time.  The SHINE caused enough electrical interference to down the broadband signal for the whole village.

The villager, who has not been named for obvious reasons, is reported to have agreed not to use the old TV again.

Interference

Many different household devices can produce radio interference that can affect broadband and Wi-Fi signals.  These can include boilers, water heaters, any device with a motor inside, TVs, some types of Christmas lights, phone chargers, and even LED bulbs and dimmer switches.

Avoiding Interference

Although there is no way of guarding against someone using a rogue TV that knocks out the whole signal for the village/town, there are some steps you can take to reduce the chances of interference to the signal (delivered over your telephone line) in your own home.  These include:

– Not putting the router behind your TV or in the middle of mains cables.

– Connecting the router to a master socket where possible.

– Making sure that devices connected to the phone line have micro-filters.

– Removing any old, unused telephone extensions.

Also, it is a good idea to use devices in the home that conform to British Standards.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For any businesses in the village, and anyone working from home, the daily broadband outages must have been highly frustrating and costly. It is a shame that the problem persisted for 18 months before it was resolved. Now more than ever, with home-working due to the pandemic, having a reliable and fast broadband connection is vitally important so it is also important to be aware, as mentioned in the information and tips above, of how to minimise sources of interference where possible.  It is also worth noting that where there has been a broadband supply failure, a voluntary Code of Practice between the big broadband providers means that there is now an automatic compensation scheme in operation.

Tech Giants Requested To Cease Kids Ads

In an open letter to Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft, MPs, academics, and campaigners have asked the big tech companies to stop targeting children with personalised advertising.

Global Action Plan

The letter has been published online by Global Action Plan (GAP) which is a charity that campaigns on primarily environmental issues but also believes that consumerism is a value system that can damage the wellbeing of young people and add to the environmental strain that the planet is under.

Stop Targeted Advertising To Kids

GAP believes that because younger generations have grown up with adverts all their lives, this has led to problems with their mental health and self-esteem. GAP is particularly concerned that there are no rules limiting the number of adverts shown to kids online. The charity says that “children are being targeted in increasingly sophisticated ways with adverts that are tailored specifically for them based on large amounts of sensitive personal information”.

GAP wants websites that are popular with children to comply with the law and stop targeting under 13s, turn off targeting for under 18s, and introduce a cap that will ensure that adverts only make up 10 per cent of social media content.

The Letter

The open letter, which is directly addressed to Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft, is the latest move as part of GAP’s  Stop Targeted Advertising to Kids campaign.  The letter makes the points that:

– Behavioural advertising undermines childrens’ privacy.

– Ad-tech companies are showing a disregard for privacy laws and appear to be subjecting children to extraordinary surveillance.

– Children are more susceptible to the pressures of marketing, are less likely to recognise paid-for content, and are less likely to understand how and what kinds of data are used for these purposes than adults.

The open letter asks for an end to behavioural ads to those people who the platforms know are, or are identified as, under 18, and states that “There is no justification for targeting teenagers with personalised ads any more than there is for targeting 12-year-olds.”

Signatories

The letter has 19 signatories including Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Caroline Lucas MP, and Amnesty International.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

GAP accepts that many websites and platforms need to host advertising but the points that GAP is making is that ‘excessive’ advertising is fuelling the consumer culture that is leading to the destruction of the environment and it seems that although targeted advertising to children is going on, there appears to be no societal consent or effective regulation. With one in three internet users worldwide being children and with 43 per cent of 11-year-olds who go online (in the UK) saying they have a social media profile, this potential problem of a lack of current regulation for the targeting of children (many of whom may be having their privacy compromised before they are even old enough to make decisions about their privacy) is significant. Big tech companies, such as Facebook, who have made the headlines in recent years over privacy issues, e.g. Cambridge Analytica and stopping hate speech online, are likely to want to appear to act responsibly with issues relating to the wellbeing of children but it remains to be seen how they respond to the open letter from GAP.  

Featured Article – Tips & Tools To Keep Kids Safe Online

The online environment can be a dangerous as well as a fun place for young people so here are some tips and tools to help keep kids safe online.

The Risks

Children face many risks online including seeing/watching things they shouldn’t, arriving on websites that contain content not suitable for them, making contact with/being contacted by potentially dangerous people on social media, being tricked or coerced into divulging personal information or sharing photos, buying things or spending money using another family member’s device, and even being bullied.

NSPCC

NSPCC figures (Jan 2020) estimate that 1 online abuse offence against a child was recorded every 16 minutes in England and Wales in the previous 9 months – that is 90 potential online abuse crimes against children every day.

The pandemic lockdown and 6-month closure of schools also put children at greater risk online.  For example, a recent NSPCC survey also shows that children turning to social media because they are feeling lonely or have poor mental health (e.g. because of the pandemic) are at higher risk of being groomed online.

The NSPCC, among others, is pushing for an Online Harms Bill that will result in the introduction of a well-resourced, independent regulator with the powers to take on the big tech companies to improve safety for children. The charity has also called for mandatory child safety rules for social networks, safe accounts for children and detailed reporting on how social networks are keeping children safe.

Although most parents accept that their children will need to learn how to use and benefit from technology such as the Internet and devices, they also know that children need protection.  Parents, therefore, often choose to allow supervised access via Parental Controls.

Parental Controls

The big tech companies each offer advice and parental control tools such as software/apps.  For example, Apple realises that its iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch and Apple TV could all be potential sources of risk for children. With this in mind, Apple offers Screen Time parental control software. This software offers features/functions such as being able to set the amount of time that kids can spend each day on specific apps and websites, creating exceptions for specific apps, like Messages or education apps (kids can request more time for parents to approve), and having a ‘Downtime’ setting whereby, at a specific time (e.g. bedtime), apps and notifications are blocked.

Apple also has a ‘Families’ section on its website that gives information about parental controls and Apple’s devices and services.

Google

Google also offers help and features to parents who want to find more ways to protect their children online.  For example, Google gives advice about how parents can add protection for a child using a Chromebook. Using Family Link to manage a child’s Google Account and their Chromebook means that children cannot browse in private, parents can manage which website children can visit and limit their ability to grant permissions to websites. Also, Chrome can be set to block most sexually explicit and violent sites.

Microsoft

There are several different settings and controls in Windows 10 that can be used to protect young users.  For example, if a parent has a Microsoft account for themselves and their child, via the settings, Family Options can allow the operation of parental controls such as checking a child’s internet browsing, getting access to details about a child’s online activity or choosing to receive a weekly email about which websites a child has visited, blocking inappropriate apps and games by choosing an age limit for content, and setting limits on the amount of screen time and also setting fixed hours when a child can access a PC or Xbox.

Browsers

Browsers also offer their own protection for young users e.g. via the addition of filters.  For example, “Kids Safe Web” is a simple lightweight, but powerful Parental Control / Web Filter for Google Chrome.

Child-friendly browsers i.e. ones with curated content and special restrictions are also available specifically for use by children.  These include Kiddle, Pikluk, Kidoz, KidRex and KidzSearch.

Snapchat

Taking Snapchat as an example of an app that is commonly used by children, parental control of the app can be carried out by making changes to settings and functions.  In addition to getting an account themselves to become familiar with the app and its risks, parents can make changes to their child’s account and check who is in their children’s friends and subscriptions lists, control what’s shown in the Discover section, and alter the location sharing setting. There are many websites that explain how this can be done e.g. https://protectyoungeyes.com/apps/snapchat-parental-controls/.  Parents can also consider using apps like the Bark monitoring tool or FamiSafe

TikTok

TikTok is another app that is hugely popular with children and young people.  In addition to privacy concerns raised about TikTok’s possible links to the Chinese state (as highlighted by President Trump in his recent banning of the app), parents may feel that this app could pose other risks to their children e.g. being targeted for child abuse.  Parental controls of TikTok include the ability to set time limits, filter mature content, and disable direct messaging for a child’s account. Parents can also enable time limits and the content filter on their child’s phone and protect these settings with a passcode.  Disabling direct messaging can be achieved using the app’s Family Pairing feature, which also gives access time limits and content filter settings.

Facebook

Although Facebook generally has a slightly older average demographic, parental controls are available.  For example, parents can access Messenger Kids account using the Parent Dashboard. Via this dashboard, they can add and remove contacts for their child, supervise friending, edit the child’s name, gender, and birthday, set up sleep mode to control when their child can use the app, download their child’s information, and remove images. 

Parental Control and Web Filtering Apps

Parental control and web filtering software examples include:

– Qustodio software that can monitor and track a child’s online activity, block dangerous websites, and protect children from online bullying.  It offers an online dashboard and Parents’ App to show how a child uses devices, apps, and the web, the ability to set time schedules or limits for how much internet time is allowed each day, as well as the ability to see what a child searches for and watches on the YouTube Android app and YouTube website.

– Net Nanny® software offers parental controls, an Internet Filter for a family’s online activity, an app-blocker for a child’s phone and tablet (with parental control software), and a website blocker.  Its ‘Family Feed’ also offers instant reporting on online searches, visibility of apps used by the children in the family, and real-time alerts for porn, suicide, weapon, and drug-related content.

Fear Vs Privacy

Although parents feel they may need to download parental control apps e.g. from Apple’s App Store to help allay fears, parents should not have to trade their fears of their children’s device usage for risks to privacy and security. Apple and Google have become aware in recent times that some parental control apps have been found to use invasive technology such as Mobile Device Management, or MDM which can give a third party control and access over a device and its sensitive information e.g. user location, email accounts, and camera permissions. Apple and Google app stores monitor and remove apps that may risk privacy, but parents should also be aware of this risk and perhaps stick to trusted, well-known apps for parental control.

Talk To Children

Talking to children about the existence of online risks and what they need to do to keep safe is important and can help them to understand and accept why parental controls are necessary. By regularly talking with their children about what they are doing and sharing online, parents can also get an up-to-date idea of risks.  

Other Sources of Information

Other sources of information that parents may find useful include:

– Net Aware, https://www.net-aware.org.uk/, a collaboration between the NSPCC and 02 is another great source for information and tips about how to keep children safe online.

– Mumsnet, which offers some good safety information and tips of discussion boards e.g. posts about how to get children off TikTok, see: https://www.mumsnet.com/children/internet-safety

Zero-Emission, Hydrogen-Powered Commercial Aircraft by 2035 Says Airbus

Airbus has announced that a zero-emission, hydrogen-fuelled commercial aircraft could be a reality by 2035.

Targets

The dramatic drop in air pollution levels during the global pandemic lockdown reminded many people of the pressing need to meet global greenhouse gas reduction targets and how commercial aircraft have been significant contributors to pollution worldwide.  It is against this backdrop that Airbus has made its latest announcement.

Airbus Says

After a  joint research project started last year between Airbus and EasyJet, the Chief Executive of Airbus, Guillaume Faury, has now announced that there are three ZEROe concept designs for aircraft that can use hydrogen, that has been produced from renewable or low-carbon sources, to power zero-emissions commercial flights.

The three gas turbine engine, hydrogen-powered aircraft design concepts are for a turbofan carrying up to 200 passengers more than 2,000 miles, a turboprop with a 50 per cent lower capacity and range, and a “blended-wing body” aircraft. Airbus says that all three aircraft could use new hydrogen fuel cells that burn liquid hydrogen to create the electrical power needed for propulsion and flight.

Hindenburg Hydrogen?

You could be forgiven for being reminded of what happened to the German passenger airship LZ 129 Hindenburg in May 1937 when its hydrogen gas balloon spectacularly caught fire as it attempted to dock with its mooring mast at Naval Air Station in New Jersey, U.S. 

Hydrogen

Hydrogen, the lightest element on the periodic table, is also known (in diatomic hydrogen gas form) for being highly flammable and explosive, even at low concentrations. It is also worth remembering that although current jet aviation fuel doesn’t give off much gas or ignite easily as a mass in the tank, it is also extremely flammable once vapourised and burns at a much higher temperature than other fuels.

Hydrogen is more efficient than the oil for normal aircraft fuel and is regarded as a much greener alternative but it is also four times bulkier, even in a liquid state.  That said, the enormous energy costs from fossil-fuels involved in making hydrogen was one of the factors involved when many of the big aviation giants, including Airbus, shelved ideas in the short-to-mid-term for greener, more efficient aircraft that could run on hydrogen back in 2010.  Other ideas for commercial aircraft fuelling that were shelved at the time also included nuclear-power, solar and electric power.

Airbus was first reported to have been involved in projects to develop a hydrogen-fuelled aircraft as far back as 2000 with its part in the Cryoplane project.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The aviation industry is currently in serious trouble as a result of the pandemic and this story of a vision for greener commercial aircraft may be a welcome distraction but is likely to look some way further off than its predicted fifteen years. Negative reports by climate change experts this week have led to some suggestions that crucial climate change emissions targets should be moved forward from 2050, and having hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft may be one important way to meet the targets and help put the brakes on climate change damage before it’s too late. 

The fact that the large quantities of hydrogen fuel needed for these new design concepts can be produced from renewable or low-carbon sources rather than fossil-fuel sources is an important change that could make these aircraft a reality. This new way of fuelling aircraft could also create many other new business opportunities and possibilities but the idea is unlikely to be met with too much enthusiasm by those in the oil and fuel industries and those businesses in their supply chains. It does appear, however, that just as car manufacturers have committed themselves to electric models going forward, emission-busting change must now start taking place in the post-pandemic aviation industry in some form or another.

Tech Tip – Optimize Working Space With Snap Assist

If you are using Windows 10 and you want to multi-task and make the most of your single screen Snap Assist enables you to split your screen between two open windows.  Here’s how:

– Hold down the Windows key on the keyboard and use the < or > arrows.

– Snap Assist will then move the active window to either the left or right side of the screen. The other side of the screen will show your other open windows.

– Click on the window that you would like on the other half of your screen to load it there.

Voice Control Your Printer

Amazon has announced its new ‘Printing With Alexa’ service that allows owners of Echo devices to operate their printer using voice commands.

Print What?

Printing With Alexa allows the simple “Alexa, print….” followed by what the user requires to produce a printed document.  Amazon says that the kinds of things that can be printed this way include “shopping and to-do lists, games like mazes and Sudoku, graph paper, lined paper, and test pages.”

The list of different documents, many of which are related to family activities, appears to reflect the working and learning from home that has become the new norm for many people over the last 6 months, and possibly again in the future with second spikes or more lockdowns. 

Connecting

Amazon says that the service will work with compatible printers that are connected to the same wireless network as your Alexa device (provided it is a compatible Echo device too). The service is activated when the user says “Alexa, discover my printer”, or navigates to the “Devices” screen in the Alexa App, selects “+”, selects “Add Device”, and chooses “Printer” as the device type. Amazon says that the service works with most IPP-enabled network-connected printers manufactured by HP, Brother, Canon, and Epson.

Ink or Toner Re-Orders

The service also enables automatic ordering ink or toner from Amazon at a 10 per cent discount, thereby acting as a kind of hands-free replenishment process and providing extra revenue for Amazon.

Brand Voice

Back in February, before the worldwide pandemic lockdowns and working-from-home hit, Amazon was more focused on features for the business market with Alexa as it offered a new ‘Brand Voice’ capability through AWS (Brand Polly) to companies which enabled them to create their own custom voice for Alexa to replace the default voice with one that reflected their “persona”, such as the voice of Colonel Sanders for KFC.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The ‘Printing With Alexa’ service is another step in Amazon’s plan to tie Alexa (and Echo devices) more closely in with all aspects of the user’s life e.g. making phone calls, setting their appointments, alarms and reminders, and linking in with many other devices on their home network plus IoT devices.  This strategy may put Amazon’s digital assistant at the heart of the operation of modern home and will, as in this case with the printer cartridge re-ordering, tie in with Amazon’s retailing platforms, thereby providing increased revenue for Amazon and a monetising of Alexa.  This may even spread to the ordering of groceries.  For example, in July, Amazon announced that it was taking on the supermarkets and Ocado in the UK with free grocery deliveries from its Amazon Fresh service.

Even though the pandemic has dampened business-targeted announcements, Amazon is still planning to keep monetising Alexa in the business market too where there is huge potential for modifications and different targeted and customised versions of Alexa and digital assistants.  For example, in April last year, Amazon launched its Alexa for Business Blueprints, which is a platform that enables businesses to make their own Alexa-powered applications for their organisation and incorporate their own customised, private ‘skills’.

Amazon Review Fraud

An FT investigation appears to have uncovered an estimated 20,000 Amazon reviews where the reviewers were suspected of being paid to give a five-star rating.

Reviews

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the UK estimates that £23 billion a year of UK consumer spending is potentially influenced by online reviews.  This makes them especially important to the many businesses selling through platforms like Amazon.

The CMA also acknowledges that there are practices that can breach the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs) and UK Advertising Codes and that these practices may prevent consumers from choosing the product or service that best suits their needs.  These can include businesses writing or commissioning fake positive reviews about themselves, businesses or individuals writing or commissioning fake negative reviews, review sites ‘cherry-picking’ positive reviews, or suppressing negative reviews and review sites’ moderation processes possibly causing some genuine negative reviews not to be published.

One recently reported trend appears to be the use of multiple one-star feedback reviews for products on Amazon, perhaps funded by competitors, as a form of manipulation.

Deletions

The FT investigation, which has led to the deletion by Amazon of the 20,000 allegedly fraudulent reviews reportedly showed the UK’s top Amazon reviewer appeared to have left an average of one five-star rating on the platform every four hours in August.

How Can It Happen?

The process that leads to fraudulent/fake five-star reviews may begin with companies meeting reviewers on social networks (e.g. in Facebook groups) or messaging apps, reviewers receiving free product samples, a good review being left on the platform and the reviewer then being given a refund on the product that was free to them in the first place.

Not New

Fake and fraudulent reviews are not new. Back in July, The Markup claimed to have found suspicious-looking reviews on Amazon and back in December 2019 a Daily Mail report claimed that Marketing firms were selling positive reviews on Amazon. At the time, Amazon said that it had already taken legal action against some firms for this.

Amazon’s Efforts

In the UK, fake reviews fall under UK consumer protection law and last year alone, Amazon is reported to have spent 400 million (US dollars) to protect customers from reviews abuse, fraud, and other forms of misconduct.  It has also bee reported that Amazon monitors around 10 million review submissions each week before they go public in an attempt to protect buyers and the credibility of its own review system.  

How To Spot Fake Reviews

Ways to spot fake review include using services like free site ‘Fakespot’ where users can copy and paste a link to a product page, then click Analyse to show any evidence of fake reviews.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Amazon is a vital sales platform for many businesses and, with the power that good reviews have in increasing sales and bad or low star reviews have in deterring sales, it is clear to see how some businesses may be tempted to resort to paid-for manipulation as a competitive tactic. Consumers, Amazon itself, and businesses that are affected by unfair reviews all lose out where fake/fraudulent/manipulated reviews can slip through the vetting process. Many people feel, therefore, that Amazon and other platforms (e.g. social media) need to work together and increase the effort, investment, technology, and creative thinking that could deliver a much improved or an innovative and new review system.

Influencers Paid To Promote NHS Test and Trace

In a bid to raise awareness of responsible behaviour concerning COVID-19 among the younger age groups, the UK government is reported to be paying freelance social media influencers and reality TV stars to promote test and trace.

Test and Trace

Test and trace in the UK is branded as NHS but is actually outsourced to private companies and uses a network of commercial testing labs, drive-through centres, and call centres.  The idea of the service, in the absence of an effective app (the UK’s app trialled in the Isle of Wight and failed after it didn’t work on Apple devices and £11 million had been spent), is to enable the identification and contacting of people who may have been unknowingly in close contact with a COVID-positive person e.g. in a restaurant.

Problem

Even though government schemes (e.g. eat out to help out and other messages) have promoted a return to restaurants and other hospitality businesses, the current narrative focuses on young people as mostly potential asymptomatic spreaders who may not be as concerned about the impact of their behaviour on the wider population.  As such, getting the message to them that they must get tests if they have symptoms and self-isolate if contacted are deemed to be especially important.  Other challenges include the fact that the test and trace service is also reported to be failing to deliver, there appears to be a reluctance among many people to share their contact details, and there is a growing weariness of and dislike pandemic restrictions being imposed, changed and re-imposed.

Freelance Influencers and Reality TV Stars

Younger age groups that have grown up with social media and reality TV are known to be susceptible to messages by social media influencers and reality TV stars.  This is believed to be because:

– Social media influencers are perceived as being more like their audience, sharing more of their experiences and therefore more ‘authentic’ (perhaps unlike more guarded celebrity behaviour), often encouraging engagement with social issues (adding to their credibility) and being able to forge a stronger more engaging direct relationship with followers i.e. they are trusted, and they are young.

– Reality TV stars are perceived to be ‘ordinary’ (just like their audience), they are open, spontaneous and outspoken (like their young audience) and they appear familiar and almost friend-like to their young admirers i.e. there is a perceived relationship with the star.

– Social media influencers have massive reach.  Individual influencers can have millions of followers.

Proven

Social media influencers and reality TV stars have a proven record of boosting sales of products in, for example, the fashion and beauty industries through their endorsements.

Who and How Much?

The UK government is reported to have enlisted the services of Love Island stars Shaughna Phillips, Josh Denzel and Chris Hughes.  It is likely that a social media influencer with a large following could be paid thousands of pounds for a single post.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Businesses in the beauty and fashion industries know how important reviews and endorsements for influencers and reality stars can be in boosting brand-power and sales.  Many different businesses also know how difficult it can be to effectively reach younger audiences in a cost-effective way.  It makes sense, therefore, that influencers who can promote test and trace among the young in a positive way and in a way that stresses its ease, convenience and social responsibility is likely to be a good tactic. Businesses in the hospitality sector, for example, have been particularly affected by pandemic restrictions and they are likely to support any intelligent moves to make going out much safer.

Aside from its promotion, however, questions are still being asked about how far people are having to travel to even get a test, how well the test and trace service is operating, where bottlenecks are, and how accurate capacity and testing figures are.

Featured Article – Just What Is The IoT?

With a vast and growing number of business, industry, consumer and civic IoT devices and systems now being used, we look at their advantages, the threats to the IoT and how we move forward in a way that maximises the benefits and security.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

IoT devices are those devices that are now present in most offices and homes that have a connection to the Internet and are, therefore, ‘smart’ and inter-connected. These devices, each of which has an IP address, could be anything from white goods and smart thermostats to CCTV cameras, medical implants, industrial controllers and building entry systems.

IoT devices transmit and collect data which can be processed in data-centres or the cloud.  IoT devices use several different communications standards and protocols to communicate with other devices.  These include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee (for low-power, short-distance communication) or message queuing telemetry transport (MQTT).

Categories

The IoT can be categorised as the consumer IoT, industrial IoT, smart homes and offices and even smart cities.

Cloud

Cloud providers also provide IoT platforms that allow IoT devices and gateways to connect with the applications used to deal with the IoT data, coordinate IoT systems and help with their functionality.

Billions

Estimates on the growing number of IoT devices vary but there is thought to be anywhere between 30 and 50 billion IoT devices worldwide which could generate more than 4 zettabytes of data this year. 

The Advantages of the IoT

Devices and systems that are ‘smart’ i.e. have an internet connection have several key advantages including:

– Data can be gathered from IoT devices that can be used to improve design, operation, security and more. This can help to create new opportunities and launch new, improved products.

– They can be updated and even patched remotely and quickly without requiring physical parts to be replaced.

– Customer interaction and engagement with the product and the brand can be increased by having a smart function.

– Companies can use IoT technologies to reduce their operational costs e.g. by helping to track and monitor equipment and reduce downtime, predict errors, and reduce power consumption.

IoT Security Risks

The risks are that the Internet connection in IoT devices can, if adequate security measures are not in place, provide a way in for hackers to steal personal data, spy on users in their own homes, or remotely take control of devices in order to misuse them.

The main security issue of many of these devices is that they have pre-set, default unchangeable passwords, and once these passwords have been discovered by cyber-criminals, the IoT devices are wide open to being tampered with and misused.

Also, the fact that IoT devices are so prevalent and are often overlooked in security planning (and are therefore likely left unguarded) means that they are vulnerable to hacks and attacks.

Another big risk is that IoT devices are deployed in many systems that link to (and are supplied by) major utilities e.g. smart meters in homes. This means that a large-scale attack on these IoT systems could affect the economy.

“Shadow IoT” devices i.e. connected to corporate networks without the knowledge of IT teams, also now pose a threat to organisations by allowing attackers a way to get into a corporate network. These devices can include fitness trackers, smartwatches, and medical devices.

Real-Life Examples

A poll by Extreme Networks of 540 IT professionals in the U.S, Europe and the Asia Pacific regions found that 70 per cent of companies who said they employed IoT devices were aware of successful or attempted hacks.

Hacks of IoT devices do not just happen to businesses.  With so many IoT devices being present in the modern home we are all now at risk. Some real-life examples of IoT hacking include:

– Hackers talking to a young girl in her bedroom via a ‘Ring’ home security camera (Mississippi, December 2019).  In the same month, a Florida family were subjected to vocal, racial abuse in their own home and subjected to a loud alarm blast after a hacker took over their ‘Ring’ security system without permission.

– In May 2018, A US woman reported that a private home conversation had been recorded by her Amazon’s voice assistant, and then sent it to a random phone contact who happened to be her husband’s employee.

– Back in 2017, researchers discovered that a sex toy with an in-built camera could also be hacked.

– In October 2016, the ‘Mirai’ attack used thousands of household IoT devices as a botnet to launch an online distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack (on the DNS service ‘Dyn’) with global consequences.

2020 Hacks

Examples of how some bigger IoT systems and devices have been attacked this year include:

– In February, there were reports that a vulnerability in over 2,300 smart building access systems was being exploited by attackers to launch DDoS attacks.

– In May, supercomputing systems in the UK, Germany, and Switzerland were targeted and infected with cryptocurrency mining malware.

– Also in May, a new form of malware called Kaiji was found to have been used to target IoT devices and Linux servers to make them part of a botnet that could be used for several different types of DDoS attacks.

IoT Security Legislation on the Way

In January this year, the UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), announced that it is preparing new legislation to enforce new standards that will protect users of IoT devices from known hacking and spying risks.

IoT Household Gadgets

This commitment to legislate leads on from last year’s proposal by then Digital Minister Margot James and follows a seven-month consultation with GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre, and with stakeholders including manufacturers, retailers, and academics. 

The proposed new legislation will improve digital protection for users of a growing number of smart household devices (devices with an Internet connection) that are broadly grouped together as the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT).  These gadgets include kitchen appliances and gadgets, connected TVs, smart speakers, home security cameras, baby monitors and more.

In business settings, IoT devices can include elevators, doors, or whole heating and fire safety systems in office buildings.

The proposed new legislation will be intended to put pressure on manufacturers to ensure that:

– All internet-enabled devices have a unique password and not a default one.

– There is a public point of contact for the reporting of any vulnerabilities in IoT products.

– The minimum length of time that a device will receive security updates is clearly stated.

Challenges

Even though legislation could make manufacturers try harder to make IoT devices more secure, technical experts and commentators have pointed out that there are many challenges to making internet-enabled/smart devices secure because:

  • Adding security to household internet-enabled ‘commodity’ items costs money. This would have to be passed on to the customer in higher prices, but this would mean that the price would not be competitive. Therefore, it may be that security is being sacrificed to keep costs down – sell now and worry about security later.
  • Even if there is a security problem in a device, the firmware (the device’s software) is not always easy to update. There are also costs involved in doing so which manufacturers of lower-end devices may not be willing to incur.
  • With devices which are typically infrequent and long-lasting purchases e.g. white goods, we tend to keep them until they stop working, and we are unlikely to replace them because they have a security vulnerability that is not fully understood. As such, these devices are likely to remain available to be used by cyber-criminals for a long time.

Looking Ahead

The IoT brings many advantages to businesses in terms of cost savings, the gathering of valuable data, monitoring and management. For consumers, smart devices deliver new levels of value-adding functionality and looking ahead, towns and cities will begin to rely even more on the benefits of IoT devices and systems.

The vast number of IoT devices, many which go unnoticed or fall outside of realistic risk assessments and/or still contain known weaknesses and vulnerabilities mean that there are big concerns about IoT security and privacy going forward. 

New legislation could mean that manufacturers in some parts of the world are more motivated to pay greater attention to the security and labelling of IoT devices although there is still some way to go.  That said, smart systems combined with other technologies such as AI and cloud technologies look like providing more opportunities for businesses in the future.

Tech Tip – Sync Sticky Notes Across Devices

If you are using Windows 10 and need some simple, handy reminders about work, appointments, calls and more, synced across all your devices and other apps, Microsoft’s Sticky Notes app can help. Here’s how it works:

– Open the Sticky Notes app (type Sticky Notes in the Start menu).

– When you first launch Sticky Notes sign-in to your Windows Account (as invited by the on-screen message). This will enable the syncing of your Sticky Notes between other devices on the account.

– Click on the + link to type a note which is then automatically stored in the Sticky Notes History.  Your notes can then be clicked on to re-open, edit, formatted and more.

– Notes can also be synchronised to the Cloud by going to the History window, clicking on the Settings icon and signing in with your Microsoft account.

– If you move to another device with recent Windows updates (from 10 October 2018) installed you should be able to see your stored, synched Sticky Notes.