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Oct 2016

Internet Of Things

You may have heard the term "Internet of Things" (or IoT) but wondered what it is. In short IoT is the concept of connecting different devices to the web and to each other. This can include anything that has an on/off switch such as washing machines, coffee makers, smartphones, tablets, doors, light switches, coffee makers and many more. These objects or “things” are embedded with software, sensors, electronics, and network connectivity, allowing them to complete tasks and communicate with each other without any human involvement.

One of the ideas behind IoT is to create a Smart Home where objects such as thermostats (in the UK, most energy companies are rolling out Smart Meters), lights, fridges, door locks, toasters, washing machines etc can all be connected to the internet and controlled by your smart phone or computer. IoT also applies to the use of smart devices outside of the home to automate processes, such as roads that alert drivers to spots of black ice or recycling bins that tell the council when to pick them up.

So how does the Internet of Things work? Well, it is made up of three major components: the things themselves; the networks connecting them together and the data flowing between each of the devices. By collecting and analysing this data, the devices can establish patterns of interest, so that users can act upon the data via their mobile apps.

One of the most popular pieces of Internet of Things technology currently available is the Nest, a smart thermostat that is connected to the internet. The Nest learns your household’s routines and will automatically adjust the temperature based on when you’re home or away, awake or asleep, hot or cold, to make your house more efficient and help save on heating and cooling bills. The mobile app allows you to edit schedules, change the temperature when you’re away from home, etc.

There is also the Philips Smart Bulb, which lets you programme and control your lights from your smartphone.

IoT has been described as a world changing revolution that will affect industrial sectors, the home and eventually the entire world. But be warned, the
smart home might not be quite so smart when it comes to security.

Cyber criminals must be rubbing their hands together with glee knowing that there are an estimated twenty-five billion devices, including desktops and laptops, online, with separate research stating that 70 percent of IoT devices are unsecured. Connecting even more of these devices creates new, and heightens existing, security risks. In fact, there have been recently reported web attacks that used compromised connected devices, from webcams to printers, to knock out several popular websites.

So what should we be doing to protect ourselves and our homes? We’ll talk about this in our next article.

Email Forwarding Scam

Once again I feel the need to write another article warning about hacking and identity fraud as I have visited several customers over the last few months whose emails have been hacked. In some of these cases the email hijackers created “forwarding policies” from the customers’ email addresses. But what does this mean and why is it dangerous?

Well, in one instance, a lady received a fake email from BT asking her to login to her BT email account to retrieve her statement. By clicking on the link within the email and then entering her email address and password on the fake BT email page (which looked incredibly convincing by the way), she'd unwittingly given the hacker all they needed to get into her real email account. Once in the BT account, the hacker altered the lady’s email settings so that all of her emails were automatically forwarded to the hacker’s email address.

In another instance a customer called me because he had not been receiving emails for several weeks. It turned out that his BT email account had also been compromised and once inside his email account, the hacker had set up an auto-forward which was sending all his emails to an email address he had never heard of. We only got to the bottom of this because the hacker hadn’t ticked the box to keep a copy of the emails in the in-box; hence he was not receiving any emails.

The reason that this email forwarding scam is so dangerous is because the hackers will receive everything you receive, including bank statements, personal messages, log-in information for other websites and accounts and much more. How long would it take, I wonder, for a hacker to build up enough information from your emails to create a new identity based on you? Not long at all is most certainly the right answer.

My advice therefore to all email users is to check all your email settings, in particular ensuring that the box to forward email on is not ticked. I would also recommend being careful when clicking on a weblink within an email. Personally speaking, if I am asked to log into any of my accounts – be it email, banking, Apple, Google, Paypal or anything - I do it directly through their website and not through an emailed weblink.

I would also like to take this opportunity to stress once again the importance of strong passwords for all your accounts. The longer the password the better and the more characters there are in your password, the longer it will take for a hacker to break it, making it less likely they will continue trying. Do use a mixture of numbers, lowercase and uppercase letters and special characters as it increases the complexity of your password and increases its strength.