As technology continues to speed forward at an incredibly rapid pace, society is getting "smarter". The consumer market is flooded with gadgets, either for entertainment or practical purposes, and these are diverse in nature. While there are lots of differences, one thing has increasingly become more common – and constant. Most everything we use is steadily equipped to be Internet-ready.

Even appliances.

Video games, televisions and other household items have been "smart" for a while now. But now the market is seeing smart thermostats, refrigerators, water heaters, washers and dryers, dishwashers and ovens, to name a few, emerge. This growth was even been coined with a term back in 1999, "The Internet of Things" (or "IoT"), and that word has become increasingly used more often in recent years to the point it's a part of everyday language.

IoT Communication
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Companies are aggressively marketing these items as making life convenient, cost-effective and, essentially, to make life more manageable. Who doesn't like convenience and saving some money in the process?

But are they really making life easier? What those marketing promos aren't telling you about are the potential problems that could be associated with installing these items in your home.

Being Connected

Smart appliances are marketed as making life easier for consumers. For instance, imagine your refrigerator tracking the freshness of your food or showing a digital display of what tasks need to be done for the day?  (Digital Trends cites these and other potentials in a June 2013 article that examines what a virtually connected appliance future world could look like). [2]

The ability of a high-tech lifestyle involving appliances and beyond has become known as the smart grid, and is an "interactive relationship between the grid operators, utilities, and you," as notes. [3] It seems the vision is a totally connected world, far beyond where society is at now.

Internet of Things/Network
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Spam Attack

In January 2014 news rippled through the press and social media that security experts traced a cyberattack involving a refrigerator. Apparently, hackers managed to compromise the smart appliance and sent out hundreds of thousands of spam emails that contained malware. NBC News reported in addition to the (at least one) refrigerator, the hackers broke into over 100,000 other gadgets. Approximately 25 percent of the 750,000 malicious emails were sent from appliances that were not traditional gadgets. [4]

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Years ago who would have thought that a refrigerator could send out malicious emails? Or be hacked for that matter?

Privacy and Security

Aside from spam and malicious emails, other issues being raised are associated with privacy and security. While undoubtedly many of these smarter home appliances are designed to allow the consumer to increase security, the problem is, as the refrigerator incident demonstrates, is that these items can be compromised and exploited.

According to a 2015 report published by the Infosec Institute, experts at Synack, a California-based security firm, analyzed 16 home automation devices. They ran different attack scenarios to simulate various situations that could exploit and expose people's lives. The tests ranged from vulnerabilities or implants done at the factory to hijacking of mobile apps for mobile control.

The test results were "disconcerting" because researchers hacked just about every appliance they analyzed.  

“Really, the state of security on these things right now is pretty atrocious,” said Colby Moore, security research engineer at Synack. [7]

Hackers can gather data, threatening privacy and the security of people.  Security experts suggest that manufactures of smart devices lack the cybersecurity background needed to properly secure these gadgets. 

Connectivity Map
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Convenience and 'Coolness' Vs. Privacy and Security

At this point in time the focus is on convenience and perhaps the "coolness" factor still plays  a role. Due to the attractive conveniences, many people are not necessarily seeking to update their gadgets with buffed up digital security. Weak default passwords are often used or the appliances aren't set up correctly, noted the NBC report. A lot of it is people don't view these objects as mini-computers and, as a result, don't treat them as they would their traditional computers. (And you figure a lot of people still treat their mobile phones like regular phones instead of the multi-functional computers they are these days).

Security smart grid
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Privacy is another issue associated with smart appliances that has been undermined, but is steadily beginning to emerge. Privacy advocates have been concerned with the issue for a few years now, noting data collection on each household. You figure there are mass amounts of it being collected on consumers. This information is analyzed for behavior, habits and preferences; imagining the amount of it is staggering. Privacy Rights Clearinghouse said back in 2010, the smart grid can impact privacy in many ways, including identity theft risk, personal behavior pattern and real-time surveillance, to name just a few. [5]

Then there is the data collection factor. People generally expect privacy in their own homes, but a connected one has high potential to eliminate that expectation. There are many incidents that have cropped up in the news but the one that stands out in my mind happened in 2013. In August of that year it was reported a hacker gained access to a room through a baby monitor (taking control of the camera) and the parents caught the man screaming obscenities at their 2-year-old daughter. When the parents entered the room, the man knew it and addressed them in an obscene manner too. [8]

It's clear today's society is increasingly becoming more dependent on functioning through "being connected", but how much is too much? It seems security and privacy, for once, might not be working at odds against each other. It seems both are being trumped by convenience when it comes to smart appliances.

With the rise of IoT, society describes itself as growing "smarter", but the question begs asking - are we really? Or as we seek out the modern conveniences associated with connectivity are we just begging for trouble?

What do you think?