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February 28, 2016

Highlighting privacy risks from connected devices – Is it FUD?

I was recently asked to participate in an interview with CBC news columnist Laura Fraser. The topic to be discussed was privacy risks from connected devices. I spend a lot of time reading about and discussing the latest privacy and security risks in products, services, apps and even social engineering scams. So, I think it was a good topic to discuss in the news. However, while the article did a good job of highlighting the risks, with quotes from myself, as well as other experts, I received some skeptical comments and even an accusation that that the article was using FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) to make the store more sensational. It is true that the risks being discussed represented the worst case scenarios – that’s why we talk about risks… to become aware of the potential for damaging impact from any unforeseen events. But I think there is a real need to raise awareness of these risks among the public.

Being a news story, the writer is free to present their own opinions, and it can be true that many people will never experience a specific worst-case scenario. But the point of my being involved in this story was to raise awareness, not just about specific risk scenarios, but to wake people up to the general lack of security in technology solutions on the market today, and the increasing risk to privacy of the general public.

As my colleague Rebecca Herold commented in a Secure World Expo blog post:

“Without privacy, we do not have a free society; simple as that. We are not free to live our lives as we want if we know that there will be unlimited others…criminals, employers, hackers, government, law enforcement, insurance companies, marketers, businesses and anyone else who feels they need to surveil in some way…watching everything we do, say and write; both online and in real life.”

So, the next time you see a story about a new product or service that is apparently putting the security or privacy of your personal information at risk, try to look at the bigger picture, rather than just discounting it as FUD and saying “that will never happen to me”. I think we are a long way from over-reacting to the growing number of threats and vulnerabilities we’re facing when it comes to our privacy today. We really need to watch carefully what aspects of our privacy we are exposing when we use these technologies.

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