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Canadians at higher risk of hacks, thanks to their smart devices: report

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Multiple “smart” devices launched in Canada in 2017, but a new report by Norton states that consumers affected by cyber-crime last year were largely adopters of smart home interfaces and emerging security features.

The report revealed that 10 million Canadians spent $1.8 billion dealing with the aftermath of being hacked in 2017, and the average cost per consumer totaled $69.

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Kevin Haley, the director of product management and security response at Symantec, told Global News that while consumers are tech-savvier than ever before, having more devices — and sharing information across those several devices — inevitably means there will be more hacks.

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“That attack space is larger,” he said. “The more time you spend online and the more devices you have, the more likely you are to be a victim.”

Smart home devices are built for usability, not for security

Both the Google Home and Amazon Echo home automation speakers made their long-awaited debuts in Canada in 2017.

Of the 10 million Canadians impacted by cyber-crime last year, over a third owned some kind of smart device they used for streaming content. Smart speakers, including the Amazon Echo and the Google Home, offer consumers several options for streaming content through the devices.

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In addition, American victims of cybercrime were almost three times as likely to own a connected home device than those who didn’t.

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Haley said that while smart devices prove incredibly convenient, “they’re built to be simple to use, not to be secure.”

He said consumers will often forget about simple safety practices when using connected devices because they don’t think of a smart speaker as a computer.”

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“We find people are doing things with these devices that they wouldn’t do with a PC. They don’t really think about them as computers. For example, they don’t necessarily change the default password.”

Frank Breitinger, from the department of computer science at the University of New Haven, added that in addition to forgetting to secure our connected devices the same way we’ve grown accustomed to securing computers, the way we connect with smart devices over Wi-Fi represents an additional risk.

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Breitinger also attributes this trend to the public’s growing trust of technology, even if people don’t completely understand it.

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“Technology nowadays gets so complicated that the average user loses track of it. For example, why does my calendar sync with my phone as well as my laptop? How does all this technology work? We simply just use it.”

According to figures from Statista, the total number of “smart” or “Internet of Things” devices in use will reach 20.4 billion in 2020, up from 8.4 billion in 2017.

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“If we have billions of insecure devices online, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble,” Haley said.

He advised consumers hoping to detect future hacks to look for unusual network activity — or to pay attention to whether the device is active when you haven’t initiated it. If it always looks like it’s working when it should be idle, or if there’s a significant amount of network activity when there shouldn’t be, this should set off alarms.

Don’t dump good privacy habits when new features come along

In addition, the Norton report revealed that a typical Canadian impacted by cybercrime in 2017 was an early adopter of advanced security technologies, like fingerprint scanners, facial recognition technology, personal VPNs, or two-factor authentication.

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The highest percentage of early adopters who said they experienced a hack in 2017 was users of fingerprint scanners at 33 per cent.

READ MORE: Smartphone fingerprint sensors could potentially be hacked

“I think that’s generally people that are technically savvy, probably a large portion of millennials, and they’re really willing to try the new stuff. But by the same token, they’re not doing the old stuff,” Haley said.

He said that early adopters who fall victim to hacks do so or for similar reasons to Canadians with numerous connected devices. Even if you’re using facial recognition and a thumbprint, he said, you still need to use a password.

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Breitinger added that there’s the possibility that new security features aren’t tested enough to measure up to protections that are tried and true, like passwords.

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He compared this to updating the software on a personal computer or smartphone. He explained that while he’s a huge proponent of adopting new technology, he won’t opt to be first in case there are flaws in the system.

“If I’m using a password as well as a fingerprint, but my password is still 1,2,3,4, it’s more likely I’ll get breached through the fingerprint.”

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