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November 17, 2014

5 security threats to wearable technology

Hackers could have a direct line to anything from wristwatches to pacemakers.

By Jimmy Nicholls

The proliferation of wearable devices that connect to the Internet understandably has a great many people worried about the implications for security. Soon enough, hackers could have a direct line to anything from wristwatches to pacemakers, and the damage could be devastating. Here are the top five wearable threats which could have an impact on you.

1. Educated burglary

Our smartphones have long had GPS functionality, allowing companies to potentially monitor our every move. Yet wearable technology burrows even further into our habits, including how long we sleep and where we exercise, which all adds up to an increasingly comprehensive picture of our lives.

The result is that clever criminals can build up a more extensive profile of our movement and habits than ever before. Last year a woman from Kansas City claimed to have had her home burgled after criminals attached GPS trackers to her car.

2. Privacy violations

With every iteration of technology, companies are looking to collect more data on our behaviour. Health apps and devices now track the food we consume, how many steps we take in the day and the quality of our sleep – if we let them.

Yet, health data is considered by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) as some of the most personal out there. Not only can a leak be embarrassing, but it can even lead to a jump in insurance premiums as more accurate data leads to a better gauging of risk. This may be good for healthy people, but it may make some uninsurable.

3. More entry points

Many of the problems on this list build on existing concerns that the smartphone era has ushered in. While this item is less dramatic than others on this list, it will likely be at the front of cybersecurity workers’ minds – every new device means a new endpoint for attackers to target.

Juan Guerrero-Saade, senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, said: "Given that security solutions are already deployed on mobile platforms, less sophisticated appendages such as wearables connected to mobile devices could become particularly interesting to advanced threat actors looking for a means of persistence with a lower probability of detection."

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4. Medical failure

Perhaps the wearable security concern most often mentioned by IT companies is that of an attack on a pacemaker. Remotely monitored medical devices could allow one nurse or doctor to do the work of many, without the need to regularly visit patients, but it comes with dangers.

Many cybersecurity buffs have worried that this will open the opportunity for a hacker to remotely shutdown a pacemaker and induce heart failure in an unsuspecting victim. The US Vice President Dick Cheney’s doctor has even ordered the wireless function of his pacemaker to be disabled for just that reason, as the politician revealed last year.

5. Confidentiality

Many privacy advocates already worry that the British are more watched than we need to be, and those fears are only more likely to be amplified as Google Glass and other forms of connected eyewear take off. Some groups have even called for connected eyewear to be banned in hospitals, dressing rooms and bars.

"With a camera or a phone and taking a picture is clearly delineated act where the social signal is clear," said Stop the Cyborgs, which campaigns for privacy. "With wearables like Glass, Autographer or Memoto only the mode that the device is in changes. There is no physical stance and no change of role on the part of the person. You just happen to be recording."

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