How safe is your wearable device

Written by Sudhir Chowdhary | Updated: Sep 2 2014, 04:55am hrs
In a consumer electronics world dominated by smartphones, HDTVs, laptop computers and tablet PCs, a new market category is generating significant consumer buying interest: wearable technologies. Each day, millions of people worldwide are actively recording every aspect of their lives, thoughts, experiences, and achievements in an activity known as self-tracking. People who engage in self-logging via wearable devices such as fitness monitors, do so for tracking physical activity and managing their personal wealth. Given the amount of personal data being generated, transmitted, and stored at various locations, privacy and security are important considerations for users of these devices and applications. IT security firm Symantec has found security risks in a large number of self-tracking

devices and applications. More on it later, first a look at the high interest in wearable technologies.

A new Accenture survey (Accentures Digital Consumer Tech Survey 2014) found that more than half of consumers (52%) are interested in buying wearable technologies such as fitness monitors for tracking physical activity and managing their personal wealth. The survey of more than 6,000 people in six countriesAustralia, Canada, India, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United Statesshowed that many are also interested in buying smart watches (46%) and Internet-connected eyeglasses (42%).

Wearable technologies deliver a wide range of capabilities: fitness monitors track a persons heart rate and calories burned, while Internet-connected eyeglass displays enable consumers to browse the Internet, take digital photos and receive hands-free notifications. Among the six countries, consumers in India were most interested in buying fitness monitors (80%), smart watches (76%) and Internet-enabled eyeglasses (74%).

How do self-tracking systems work

Many people who engage in self-tracking do it with gadgets such as electronic wristbands, smart watches, pendants, and even smart clothing. These gadgets typically contain a number of sensors, a processor, memory, and a communication interface. These gadgets enable the user to effortlessly collect, store, and transmit the data to another computer for processing and analysis.

Despite the growing use of specifically designed gadgets, smartphones are perhaps the most common way for people to perform self-tracking. A modern smartphone is packed with a wide range of different sensors that can be used by many different self-tracking applications. Many people already carry smartphones with them, and the proliferation of free self-tracking apps makes it easier than ever for users to get into self-tracking.

To start self-tracking, users simply choose from a wide range of apps in the various app markets, install one of them, sign up for an account, and start tracking. At the end of every session, the user can review and sync the collected data to a cloud-based server for storage.

Tarun Kaura, director, Technology Sales, India, Symantec, says, In the past year wearable technologies have emerged as the next big consumer electronics market category in India. Wearable technologies deliver a wide range of capabilities: fitness monitors track a persons heart rate and calories burned, while tracking devices collect personal data and smartphone apps helps analyse this dataleading to a phenomenon called Quantified Self that allows people to monitor everything from physical activity and navigation, to mood and sleep. He adds: As the self-tracking trend is causing an explosion of personal data, it not only gives us an opportunity to learn about ourselves, but could also open up the opportunity for others to learn the same about us. With most Internet-connected devices, the growing proliferation of wearables has spawned both privacy and security concerns.

Myla V Pilao, director, TrendLabs is quick to highlight the wearable worries too. Wearable technologies enable capture and collection of detailed information about an individuals life, including their lifestyle choices, personal health, location, movement and daily routines. Without the right security controls, data gathered by such devices could enable identity theft, stalking, fraud and other crimes.

In order to test the security concerns, researchers (globally) at Symantec built a number of scanning devicesusing Raspberry Pi minicomputers and found that tracking of individuals was possible. It was also observed that 20% of apps also transmitted user credentials and personal data in clear text, thus leaving the user data wide open to data sniffing. The ecosystem of wearable devices is not yet evolved to manage the amount of personal data that is being generated and shared each day. Thus application developers and device manufacturers should lay equal stress on security along with the features and functionality and they should consider an end-to-end security cover, insists Kaura.

7 tips to stay protected

For users:

Use a screen lock or password to prevent unauthorised access to your device.

Use strong passwords.

Turn off Bluetooth when not required.

Be wary of sites and services asking for unnecessary or excessive information.

Be careful when using social sharing features.

Avoid sharing location details on social media.

Use a device based security solution.

For app developers and service providers:

Build security in from the start, not as an afterthought.

Always use secure protocols when transmitting data

Ensure that the device is not directly or indirectly traceable

Only collect data that is necessary to provide a service and nothing more

Require strong passwords for user accounts

Follow best practices for password handling

Ensure that staff are properly trained on how to handle sensitive information