Wearable Tech: A Potential Cyber Threat on Your Wrist

In the last decade, technology has continued to evolve at an astonishing pace, from desktops and laptops to tablets and smartphones, and now wearable devices.


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Wearable tech took the spotlight at CES 2014, as tech start-ups and companies hyped health monitors, optical headgears, smartwatches, and fitness trackers. Firms are investing millions of dollars in creating the next breakthrough and innovative product for the average consumer.

According to the estimates from research and marketing intelligence company IDC, the market for wearable devices will increase to a total of 19.2 million units in 2014, primarily driven by devices such as Jawbone’s UP bracelet or Fitbit.

And big names in the tech industry, such as Samsung and Apple, are contributing to the expected rise. Samsung has enjoyed a good number of sales for its smartwatch in the last few months and soon Apple will be entering the arena with its highly anticipated iWatch.

But as consumers use these devices to connect to the Internet (which is a necessity for accessing most basic functions), it’s important to be aware of the cyber risks surrounding wearable technology.

For example, Google Glass and Nike Fuel bands monitor information about the user’s movement through GPS – this can provide a cybercriminal with information about your daily routine, activity patterns and current location.

That is what happened back in 2011 when a company making Fitbut fitness trackers came under fire after the sexual activity tracked on consumer accelerometers appeared in Google search results.

Also, there’s the question of what the implications could be when these devices are connected to critical infrastructure in companies. With IT teams already defending their organizations from BYOD security threats, wearable technology could create another new threat vector. A study conducted by EC3 (Europol’s European Cybercrime Center) and ICSPA (the International Cyber Security Protection Alliance) says that cyber threats could soon threaten critical infrastructure and wearable technology.

The threat could have more serious consequences than initially expected. In 2012, a cyber threat forced a physician treating Dick Cheney to disable his heart pump’s wireless capability with the fear that it could be hacked in an attempt for assassination. Was it hype? No, because a year later, a security researcher showed how he could take control of an insulin pump from a distance of 300 feet to inject a lethal dose of the drug.


Photo: Alexey Boldin / Shutterstock

As it stands

While cyber threats are worrisome, it’s the surveillance capabilities of wearable devices that create threat vectors for consumers and organizations.

A survey conducted by Smithsonian magazine and Pew Research Center reveals that 53 percent of participants think it would be a troublesome change if most consumers are wearing implants and other similar devices that constantly track information about them around the world. The devices could capture sensitive information too such as company data and financial credentials.

Of course, manufacturers will be taking precautions against the most obvious of threats, but it’s important for consumers to be mindful of all the vulnerabilities surrounding wearable tech, especially as cyber criminals are working hard to outwit integrated threat mitigation measures and gain access to sensitive user information.

Despite all these concerns, wearable devices have a lot of potential positives for consumers and businesses alike, and there is no reason to hold back from embracing their use. The challenge for consumer electronics companies is to provide smart and secure devices that simplify our lives, without compromising privacy and security.