Who’s spying on you? How do they do that? What are they hoping to accomplish? How can you stop them (or at least construct roadblocks)? We can begin with the easier, more understandable threats. They have been discussed and we have been warned about them for decades.

Computer security experts tell us that protection for our devices is relatively easy; run latest version of the operating system and applications. Purchase and install current versions of virus/malware and updates. They can be frequent; the “bad guys” are constantly refining their skills.

Many internet users have WiFi networks at home or in the office. These networks generally require the use of two devices, a modem to capture the provider’s signal and a router that allows transmission of the WiFi signal. Modems are connected directly to a provider’s service line so there is a minimum risk for information or identity theft. Not true for a WiFi router. Routers create that WiFi network and users need to be concerned about criminals accessing it. On the good side, routers come with assignable passwords and IDs as protection. On the bad side, many users install the routers but leave them running on the default codes which many criminals already know, and is a primary reasons information and identities are stolen and devices are compromised. Keep your devices current. We tend to lean towards the expedient – not bothering to change passwords and IDs, sharing information on open networks.

With all of that said, there is an area of threat that most of us face but for which awareness and understanding may be lacking: IoT, the Internet of Things.

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IoT means devices are more interconnected than many realize.

I first discovered this shopping at a COSTCO. While waiting in a store exit line, my wife’s cell phone beeped and a message appeared. The refrigerator on display by the exit line was reaching out to us with information on temperature settings and shopping reminders – the Internet of Things. We purchased a Samsung television and while programming it, an email address and other information was requested. This was not coming from our service providers (they already know this information and much more including viewing habits). The request came from the TV manufacturer so they could capture information. The Internet of Things! Do you have a smart doorbell, accessible home security system, internet-accessed home heating /cooling system? A remote room monitor system for an infant’s room? A toy with either a camera or microphone that allows for remote eavesdropping. All these devices and more are part of the INTERNET OF THINGS. All, including devices like Alexa and Google Home may have attractive features but beware; they can be used to spy and eavesdrop. Consider what else is possible. What if the criminal was able to access the home system? Would it be possible to change the access codes for the house? Unlock doors and windows? Access and disable heating heating to disable heating when the weather is freezing? (I don’t even want to add consider what could happen to motor vehicles that are internet-enabled cruising at 65 miles per hour.). So – what can be done to set up “roadblocks” to IoT access?

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First, when considering the purchase of any IoT device, read, review, and question. There are a number of on-line resources such as Consumer Reports, C-Net, PC-Mag, and even Mechanics Illustrated. If purchasing from a “bricks & mortar” store, question the sales people: are passwords and encryption changeable, can I block features that I do not want, does the manufacturer collect, use or sell data from my device. Avoid completion of personal questions included on product warrantees. These questions allow companies to profile consumers to pitch products to you on-line, by phone and in the mail. They are unnecessary in activating warrantees.

As a consumer, you are also a product that is bought and sold for information non-stop. Before making that technology purchase know all the capabilities, benefits, and dangers before you activate the product.

Questions? Comments? Contact me a egreenblott@aarp.org.

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and coordinator of the AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network. He hosts a CATV program, Mr. Scammer, distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland, Vt. – www.gnat-tv.org



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