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The Risks of Those New Smart Devices

When popular variety show host and singer Andy Williams first crooned out the lyrics to “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" in 1963, it was a simpler time without computers, cell phones, or social media. Fast forward to 2020. Instead of kids jingle belling and friends coming to call, everyone is texting and posting their holiday wishes and cheer on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.  ‘Tis the season to be aware of the risks of sharing too much jolly online and to make sure those holiday gifts aren’t giving away too much information.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the hottest days of the year for digital purchases. Consumers aren’t the only ones embracing this most wonderful time of the year.  Hackers and trackers have their prying eyes on your new tech gadgets and gifts as well, especially since they know that during the pandemic people are playing and working at home more now than ever before. 

According to the Consumer Technology Association, 45% of consumers expect to purchase at least one smartphone as a gift and 38% of U.S. adults plan to purchase a video game console as a gift.  With virtual learning the new “normal” this school year, interest in STEM products has grown, with 26% of U.S. adults planning to purchase gifts that will help with their kids school work.

Whether you've purchased a smartphone, laptop, fitness tracker, or other IoT device for yourself or someone on your gift list, make sure you or the recipient secures those devices from unwelcome Grinches.

These smart devices come with inherent security features – and risks. Know what those are and how to prevent those gadgets from revealing who and where you are or from phoning home to Santa or anyone else.  Location tracking and voice activation are the two major features that give your data away to hackers and trackers.

Location Tracking
Location tracking services not only provide data to advertisers so they can target you with specific products and services, they also control which apps access your location.  Most apps default to following your location when you download them - freely sharing your location and privacy.

Risk: The more you share your location, the more people can track you.

    • Tip: Adjust your location services to limit which apps track your location and when.

      Voice command
      Most devices now include voice command, or voice activation. Siri, Alexa, Google, and Bixby may want to help organize your busy life, but make sure you monitor just how often they are tuning into your conversations.

      Risk: Your device(s) might be listening to you even when you don't know it and gathering, storing, and sharing personal information.

        • Tip: Be diligent about muting your smart devices or secure their lock screens when not in use.

          Laptops, Tablets, and Phones
          Mobile devices are great for entertaining us and letting us work from wherever we are.  They come equipped with – and you can add - apps that are designed to be more productive or have more fun. They accomplish that by gaining access to your contacts, photos, camera, microphone, and location data.

          Risk: When downloading apps, they often default to accessing your data, putting your privacy at risk without you even knowing it.

            • Tips: Monitor which apps have access to what personal information on your device and adjust their settings accordingly to “only when using app,” “never,” or “always.”
            • Use a more private browser, such as DuckDuckGo, that doesn’t collect and store your data.
            • Install Winston's browser extensions for Firefox and Chrome to manage the level of privacy protection provided for websites you visit.
            Internet of Things (IoT)

            IoT is any digital device that connects to the internet, including smart speakers, smart TVs, security cameras and doorbells, smart toys, and wearable tech like fitness trackers. Homes today have at least one, if not multiple, connected devices that together create a smart home.  Winston protects all the devices connected to your home network.   Keeping your connection secure and exercising caution when using common features like voice command can go a long way in protecting your privacy.

            Risk: The very features that enable you to do things smarter with smart devices are the very features that can compromise your privacy.

              • Tips: Be aware of when voice command devices are unmuted and what you want them to listen to.
              • Enable voice recognition so your devices only listen to trusted users.

              Winston offers comprehensive protection for all the devices connected to your network.  Get the most protection for your data and your family from our guide to tweaking and tuning Winston.

                Tech is ever-evolving and so are the threats and tactics hackers and trackers use to exploit vulnerabilities in new technology.   When you are making your holiday list and checking it twice,  make sure protecting your devices is at the top of the list so your holidays stay merry and bright.