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Wearable tech security threats: you can run, but you can’t hide

Posted by Marta Kot on 21st February 2014

In her recent speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos a few weeks ago, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer quoted research that suggests the average person now checks their smartphone a staggering 150 times a day. This will come as no surprise to anyone, but the issue is that this desire to stay connected is often the main consideration driving consumer purchase of these devices, with little to no regard for the additional risks they bring.

Wearable gadgets are now set to see similar levels of consumer adoption as smartphones and it’s not hard to see why, offering individuals increased mobility, flexibility, effectiveness and efficiency. But this huge potential user base is also already making them an attractive target for malware creators. The most common example is aimed at Google Glass and devices that are able to invisibly record the world around them before uploading to the cloud. The serious impact this will have on security should be obvious and shifts certain risk parameters we’ve previously taken for granted.

Being attached to the body or clothing may make wearables harder to lose than, say, a laptop or a smartphone. Nevertheless, when this in turn means the user can easily carry these almost everywhere, the risk of them falling into the wrong hands increases. But traditional data protection measures will not suffice. Sensitive information stored inside any gadget should be encrypted and password protected, yet wearable tech may not allow a user to type in a password on a keypad. As a result, we will need alternative solutions – like advanced biometric authentication – to mature to a point where they can be relied upon to handle this task.

But the reality is that devices needn’t fall into the wrong hands to be compromised. Every time a new class of device has connected to the Internet, data thieves have – often instantly – taught us an unwanted lesson in how easily they can bypass security systems and compromise our gadgets. Take something as simple as fitness bands, for example. Few people would look at these as offering any opportunity to be hacked and personal data retrieved, but we’ve already seen cases where hackers have managed to use them to monitor and record GPS information about the user. This not only damages privacy, it may well endanger your own personal security by providing a stranger with details about your current and historical locations.

At the same time you should not rush into thinking that wearable computing is inherently unsafe – the benefits they promise and possibilities they open up are very exciting. Safety issues need to be considered and discussed thoroughly by all users. We can never stop them being the target of malware, so we need to manage the security and privacy threats they pose.

photo credit: tedeytan

Marta Kot