Welcome to another installment of The Weekly Echo, the column where we talk about everything related to Amazon Echo and the Internet of Things. This week, Alexa has learned new jokes, a new skill and also has access to hundreds of new artists on Prime Music. Alexa has also arrived in the new Amazon Fire TV. More seriously, though, we’ll be discussing security concerns with the growing Internet of Things.
The Alexa update
Every week, Alexa gets smarter. This week, in addition to bringing you hundreds more artists on Prime Music, including Katy Perry, Maroon 5, Ariana Grande, The Weeknd, Drake, Lady Gaga, and more, Alexa is also able to tell more jokes from late night television and even control your home’s garage.
If you ask Alexa to tell you a Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton joke, you can get a good laugh. And if you use Garageio, a new third-party skill to control and monitor your garage door, you’re able to ask Alexa whether you left the door open and even have her close it. This depends on the Garageio Smart Garage Controller, which works with your existing opener.
Security and the Internet of Things
This is becoming a major concern, so much so that the Federal Bureau of Investigations is worried about it. The major problem is that the hubs that control our connected devices are available for anybody to purchase and try to exploit. Hackers can find one insecure device to leapfrog their way into larger connected networks, and it’s very difficult for the manufacturer to just flip a switch and update every like device sold around the world (which sometimes count in the millions).
This is further complicated by the fact that many of the companies entering the Internet of Things marketplace are startups. They may or may not have the money to hire security experts to make sure everything is locked down. Trying to keep the prices down makes security even harder to maintain. We already have learned how easy Amazon’s Dash button is to hack, even if it’s only been compromised for fun and useful purposes so far.
So what can be done about it? As TechCrunch points out:
Now is the time for the technology industry to proactively address these concerns, before the threat of widespread IoT security breaches becomes a reality. The standards groups, enterprise organizations and the legions of startups and maker communities working in this area must join together and get to work on addressing the critical issue of safeguarding the IoT before it’s too late.
The technology industry knows something needs to be done about Internet of Things security, so now they have to do it. Fortunately, the work has already begun, through industry groups like the International Standards Organization (ISO). The organization currently has a working group looking into how their ISO 27000 family of security standards could be adapted to handle the security needs of the Internet of Things, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Standards Association is working on its own framework to address security, privacy, and safety issues concerning the Internet of Things.
Does this mean the Internet of Things is inherently unsafe? Yes and no. Luckily, most IoT devices connect to your existing home Wi-Fi network to operate, so you have at least that layer of security. That’s assuming, of course, you have your Wi-Fi hotspot properly secured. You do, don’t you? Right now, that’s really the only assurance of security you have with your smart devices.