As we get more 'connected' we need to think 'smart’ on cyber security

Hello Barbie: The wi-fi enabled talking version of the doll records everything she hears and stores it in cyberspace.

She hasn’t yet made it to our shores but if and when Hello Barbie lands in Irish toyshops, one cyber security expert suggests we bid her a swift goodbye.

The wi-fi-enabled talking version of the omnipresent doll is designed to analyse a child’s speech and formulate appropriate responses but in doing so, she records everything she hears while she’s activated and stores it all in cyberspace.

And if the idea of some cloud computer technician listening in to your child’s play seems creepy, it’s only the tip of the iceberg as regards familiar devices from toys to TVs to the family car being equipped to spy on us — and being exposed to hackers in the process.

“Five years from now there is going to be four connected devices for every person in the world — more than 20 billion devices,” said Jeff Moulton, director of the Cyber Research Centre at Louisiana State University in the United States.

He told the annual Safe Computing Forum for businesses and organisations that the implications were enormous but the majority of device users were blissfully unaware of the potential for harm.

“Do you really know the mechanic that you take your car to? What if he was to inject some malware into your obd2 chip — the master sensor in your car?

“It communicates with all the other sensors so if this mechanic puts some malware in it, it can be remotely taken over so I can make your brakes not work, or I can make your car shut off.

“I can probably attack your car with the parking meter outside.” Mr Moulton said consumers had reached a point where convenience trumps privacy and security.

“We get used to being able to open my garage door from my iphone before I go in the driveway. These things are wonderful conveniences but they’re also security gaps.

“Think of buying stuff online. Every single time you put your credit card in the computer your risk exposure. Every single time,” he said. Mr Moulton referenced the attack by hackers that compromised 60,000 Supervalu customers last year here and said worldwide, security breaches at Ebay, Sony, Blue Cross and Target had put the personal information of tens of millions of people at risk.

He told the attendance of more than 200 that they needed to start practicing “cyber hygiene”.

“We need to understand what we can do to protect ourselves and that needs to become part of our lifestyle like brushing your teeth in the morning,” he said.

Simple tips he offered included getting a separate low-limit credit card for use only for online shopping, rounding up restaurant bills with a tip that brought the total to a .00 so that any sum on a credit card statement that didn’t end in a zero instantly roused suspicion.

Mr Moulton also eschews Facebook and Twitter. “Some people say I’m paranoid but I take that as a compliment.”

The Safe Computing Forum is organised by Data Solutions which recently surveyed senior IT professionals in Ireland and found more than 50% believed their company was not up to speed on IT security while 33% felt their company’s security was being put at risk by internal use of social media.

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