The Internet of Things (IoT)

The internet of things is a big concern and should be one of students are very aware of as it potentially threatens our privacy and our security.

When discussing the Internet of things I focus on two issues; one being that these devices generally have default user names and passwords and that these are seldom changed by users and the second is the difficulty and also lack of regularity in terms of updating the software which runs on such devices.

When discussing passwords I focus on the 2014 reporting of 70,000 web cams across the world which an internet user had gathered on a single site.   As these devices all had no default password set any users could effectively connect to the feed and view whatever the web camera sees whether this be a car park, a football ground, the inside of house or the pathway to someone’s front door.

A quick discussion with students as to how they would feel having their movements monitored by persons unknown and also the risks which such monitoring might expose them to quickly gets the point across as to the need to change password.

To illustrate the need to update operating systems I use the vulnerability which was identified in robotic vacuum cleaners.   This allowed hackers to gain access to the video feed from such a vacuum cleaner as well as being able to control the device itself.   The vulnerability was in the software which was then patched by the vendor following discovery of the issue.

Students were then asked about how they would know if devices they have purchased had identified vulnerability.   Would vendors have a way to contact those that purchased their device?     It became clear that generally the answer is no and therefore the only way to remain secure is in fact to keep updating devices so that they are using the latest and therefore least vulnerable software.

The internet of things will continue to grow as more and more devices are connected to our home network.   As the list of devices grow so does the risk.    As the risk grows it will become more and more important that students are aware of the risks and are aware of the basic security measures they can take such as updating software and changing default passwords.


Have I been pwned?

There have been that many high profile data breaches over the last few years including the Yahoo breach which hit around 3 billion user accounts, the LinkedIn breach which around 160 million user accounts along with many other small breaches of services across the internet.   I have often used the fact that these breaches have occurred as evidence that students need to take care as to the details they share with services, the strength of the passwords they use as well as the need to ensure they do not share common passwords across different sites.


Around 6 months ago I was introduced to the Have I Been Pwned website and it is now regular a part of my lessons with students in relation to cyber security and digital citizenship.    The site contains a huge database of the details which have been leaked as a part of the many publicly reported data breaches.    I ask students to volunteer and enter their email addresses into the service to see if their email account has ever been involved in part of a data breach.   This very much gets students engaged as they wait in anticipation to see if they have been involved in a data breach.   To date at least 1 in every 3 students who volunteer and enter their email address have been identified as having their account details “pwned”.    This to me is worrying as those concerned are generally unaware that any of their details may have been leaked, and therefore now be accessible on the net, prior to accessing the site.

I would recommend the use of the site with students, as well as with staff and personally to check how exposed you are to past breaches.   Speaking personally, the first time I accessed the site it flagged up the fact my own personal details had been compromised as part of a breach I wasn’t aware of.   Having identified this I quickly was able to change my password and take other preventative measures.

Internet of Things

As we increasingly bring more and more internet enabled devices into our homes, I wonder if our students have really considered the implications.    Internet enabled printers, children’s toys, baby monitors, temperature control systems, robo-vacuum cleaners, internet enabled fridges and washing machines…..the list goes on.

The issue is two fold in my eyes.

  1. The more devices we have in our homes which are internet enabled, the more possible access routes we are providing for cyber intruders to gain entry, gain valuable personal information and even gain our hard earned cash.
  2. The makers of these items first focus is on their business and not necessarily on cyber security.   As such the devices are often not designed with data protection and cyber security at their core.

In illustrating this for students I like the below video in relation to a vulnerability which was identified in robo-vacuum cleaners.

Following this I usually ask students to consider the range of internet enabled devices they have at home and how each might be misused if compromised.

My closing remark for students; Bringing internet enabled devices into our homes makes life more convenient and more fun in cases, however it isn’t without its downsides and risks.

Basic Tech Safety

In developing a series of sessions on digital literacy I thought a good place to start would be that of basic computer safety including password management.    Ahead of this is an initial discussion with students in terms of identifying what the risks and implications of using technology where no consideration has been given for computer safety and security.

The areas which I consider to represent the basic elements of safety are:

  1. Password and account management
  2. Risk associated with website access
  3. Social media dangers
  4. The danger of the ubiquitous use of email
  5. Data loss from mobile devices, portable storage or storage failure.

In discussing each I use the CIA acronym as a structure for examining the risks and safety measures.    CIA refers to Confidentiality, Integrity and Accessibility.     In discussing password management confidentiality may lead us to consider how we keep usernames and password confidential such that our files remain confidential.   It may also leads us to discuss accessibility in that as users we want easy access to our data and therefore shorter easier to remember usernames and passwords seem preferable yet this run contrary to the need for confidentiality.    This conflict may leads to examine how password managers might assist in achieving both confidentiality and accessibility.

The main aim of the first session will be to get students to consider their technological safety in greater detail and depth than they may have done previously.     It is also hoped that this first session will allow for in group discussion and debate, which will set the tone for the discussion and debate which will be needed on some of the more moral or ethically related discussions in later sessions.

You can access the basic PowerPoint (yes, I know, a PowerPoint!   Have just used it to create a basic framework only and have no intention of death by PowerPoint) related to session one here.

I would welcome any thoughts or comments.