Technology runs the world — and 2016 was the year to prove it.
The internet and the gadgets it runs on were at the centre of several of the year’s biggest stories, most notably the U.S. presidential election.
But consumers were also subjected to an increasing amount of cyberattacks and hacking scandals, at least one of which drew attention to the danger of web-connected home devices.
Experts warn the year ahead could be even more volatile when it comes to cyberattacks.
Be prepared for hackers to hold your smart home for ransom
In October, popular Domain Name Server (DNS) provider Dyn was targeted with a large-scale Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack that knocked its systems offline and caused widespread outages for websites like Twitter, Netflix, Amazon, Spotify and Airbnb.
The attack was a rude awakening for consumers, after it was revealed that hackers orchestrated the take down using malware to infect “smart” devices connected to the so-called Internet of Things.
In other words, your Wi-Fi connected coffee maker or your PVR could be used as a “cyber weapon” by hackers.
“The bad guys realized it’s easier to enslave these devices, rather than a computer that has anti-virus software,” explained David Masson, Canada country manager for cyber security firm Darktrace.
“Most people don’t actually know that it’s happened. They don’t know that their printer belongs to someone else and is carrying out an attack.”
WATCH: Most Internet of Things devices have privacy issues, study finds
Experts have long expressed concerns about security on the so-called “Internet of Things” — everyday objects that connect to the internet, allowing them to send and receive data — thanks to lax and confusing security measures on many of these consumer devices. For example, one of the easiest ways to prevent a smart object from being hacked is to change the administrative password. Many consumers aren’t aware there is a password to begin with, said Masson.
He warns that attacks like the one that targeted Dyn’s network are likely to increase over the next year. But he also cautioned that consumers may soon be targeted by ransomware on their smart devices.
Ransomware is a type of malicious software that encrypts files on a user’s computer and asks for money in exchange for unlocking the data.
“Imagine you come home and your TV is hacked and you want to watch the game. Would you pay 50 bucks to unlock it,” asked Masson.
“Let’s say you were in the car and your GPS system got hacked — you need to know where you’re going. Wouldn’t you think about pulling out your credit card and paying them?”
In Masson’s words, hackers like “easy work” and a way to make a quick buck. Darktrace research suggests more hackers are realizing they can make $50 here and there by simply locking people out of these everyday devices.
Masson isn’t the only one worried about hackers holding smart devices hostage. ESET senior security researcher Stephen Cobb listed the “Ransomware of Things” (ROT) as a main concern heading into 2017.
“Terms like RoT and jackware are not intended to cause alarm. They symbolize things that could come to pass if we do not do enough in 2017 to prevent them from becoming a reality,” Cobb wrote in a report.
So what can you do to help prevent hackers from targeting your smart devices? The easiest way is to change the admin password associated with the device and make sure it’s hard to guess (i.e. don’t just change it from “admin” to “password”).
Experts also recommend using a secure Wi-Fi connection, which means ensuring you have a strong password on your home network and you are cautious when using public Wi-Fi networks, which are known for having notoriously bad security. Intel Security recommends that you come up with a secure, unique password for all of your devices and, if possible, use any biometric security features on your device (such as a fingerprint scanner).
More control over your healthcare
According to Telus Health, Canada’s largest health IT company, Canada’s adoption of digital health technology has doubled since 2009, with more doctors eager to use digital patient information in their practice.
As electronic medical records (EMRs) — a digital chart that holds all of your healthcare history, instead of the traditional paper method — are more widely adopted by family physicians, experts believe preventative medicine will improve.
“Canada is well positioned to increase collaboration between healthcare providers to improve patient care in 2017,” said Paul Lepage, president of Telus Health.
“By ensuring data from a patient’s EMR moves seamlessly across healthcare teams, including doctors, pharmacists and insurance providers, healthcare professionals can become more proactive and focus on preventative medicine, keeping patients healthy rather than simply focusing on treatment once they are sick.”
Patient access to those EMRs has been a hot button issue in Ontario this year. In November, health minister Eric Hoskins announced he plans to act on a recommendation to give patients access to their electronic medical records as the province updates the mandate of eHealth Ontario.
WATCH: Report on eHealth Ontario says patients should have access to electronic medical records
The Liberal government’s privatization expert recommended eHealth’s role be refocused more on service delivery, and said patients should be able to interact with their own personal health information.
Dr. Sam Azer, Family physician in Fort Saskatchewan, AB, says giving patients access to their EMRs would eventually allow them to interact with their own healthcare data.
“This will give patients more control over their health — even inputting their own health information into their EMRs for their physicians to review,” Azer said.
More advertising… in virtual reality
If you thought today’s ads were in your face, think again.
According to Abdullah Snobar, director of the tech startup incubator DMZ at Ryerson University, advertising in virtual reality is going to take shape in 2017.
This year it seemed the entire world became obsessed with augmented reality smartphone game Pokemon Go (roughly three in 10 Canadian users agreed the game was “taking over their lives,” according to an Ipsos poll conducted for Global News in July). Snobar said the integration of ads into this type of game will be huge next year — for example, a brand may lure players to their store, then offer a virtual coupon from within the app.
But Snobar predicts brands will get even more hands on with virtual reality in order to sell customers more products.
“Imagine you walk into a BMW dealership and you get a headset and controllers that would allow you to test drive a BMW in any location you desire in the world,” he said.
“If you look at it from a real estate point of view – they can make it fun by taking customers into a really cool office and show you a 360 virtual tour of all of these houses in the comfort of one room. The ones you really like you can still go out and see in person, so you still have that personal touch.”
Why all the fuss, you ask?
“It’s all going to be value add — what is going to make customers lives easier,” he said.
Canadian Tire is one retailer that has already been experimenting with augmented and virtual reality. This year the company’s spring catalogue allowed users to download an app and use their smartphone or tablet to create a digital replica of what was on the page, complete with more information, product reviews and links to online shopping.
In an interview with the Financial Post, Canadian Tire president Allan MacDonald hinted at the possibility of using virtual reality to help customers build virtual patios in their backyards to see how Canadian Tire products might fit in with the design.