The Wearable Future Is Hackable. Here’s What You Need To Know

By on Feb 18, 2015

In nearly every science fiction movie made, there is at least one character that is part machine and part man. They are the cyborgs. Luke Skywalker has a mechanical hand; Robocop is, well, Robocop; and Geordi LaForge of Star Trek had a wearable visor that helps him see. They’re all reliant on technology to help make their daily lives easier.

But that cyborg future isn’t science fiction. It’s reality. For that, you can thank wearables, technology that tracks, analyzes and assists in daily tasks. And it is a popular trend: ABI Research estimates that by 2019, the world will have 780 million wearables—everything from fitness trackers and smart watches to smart glasses and even heart monitors, in circulation. But wearable computing comes with certain risks. The most prominent: cybercriminals potentially gaining access to your data.

But how will they gain access to your data?

The weakest link in the wearables space is your mobile phone, not the actual wearable device itself. That’s because wearables tend to link to your mobile device over a short-range wireless spectrum known as “Bluetooth.” This spectrum is used to send and receive data between your wearable device and your mobile. That makes your mobile a prime target for hackers.

Most commonly, hackers gain access to the data on your mobile through malware-laden apps. These apps are oftentimes designed to look like popular apps, but with enough differences that they don’t flag copyright suspicion.

Hackers can use these malicious apps do a variety of things from making phone calls without your permission, sending and receiving texts and extracting personal information—all potentially without your knowledge. They can also, with the help of your wearable, track your location through GPS and record any health issues you’ve entered into your wearable. The point is: once they have permissions to your mobile device, they have a lot of control and a lot of resources.

The hacker can then use this data to conduct varying forms of fraud. Need a special prescription from your doctor that happens to sell well on the black market? Well, so does the hacker. Going out for a jog in the morning? Good information for a burglar to know. These personal details just scratch the surface of information available for the taking on your mobile devices.

These types of threats aren’t limited to wearables, however. The Internet of Things—the phenomenon of devices connected to the Internet for analysis and optimization—encompasses all sorts of other electronic devices such as washing machines and refrigerators that can put your data at risk as well. But these life-changing devices can be secured through education and industry standards. Two things we’re working on day and night.

So what can you do to defend your wearables and your personal information? Well, here are a few tips:

  • Use a PIN. All of your mobile devices ought to have a personal identification number (PIN). This basic security method is a great way of dissuading casual hackers or thieves from stealing your data.
  • Limit what you share. Most wearables don’t need access to every piece of information about you. You can lessen the likelihood of your wearable sharing sensitive information by only entering the information your wearable device requires. On the flip side, always double-check the permissions that the wearables app is requesting on your mobile device. Does it really need access to your location, camera roll, and address book? If not, be sure to alter these settings appropriately.
  • Use comprehensive security. Of course, securing the weakest link in your wearables environment, your phone, will go a long way towards keeping your data safe. But what happens when your computer, where you store backups of your smartphone, is compromised too? We’ve got you covered with McAfee LiveSafe™ service, our comprehensive security solution that covers nearly every device you have. If you already have protection on your computer, download McAfee Mobile Security on your Android or iOS device for free.

If you’re attending Strata + Hadoop World this week, come see me speak on this topic on Friday, February 20th at 2:20pm PT. And, of course, stay on top of the latest consumer and mobile security threats by following myself and @McAfee_Home on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.

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About the Author

Gary Davis

Gary Davis was previously McAfee's Consumer Security Evangelist providing security education and advice to businesses and consumers. He is a sought-after speaker on trends in digital security, appearing at conferences and events, as well as security and consumer lifestyle broadcast outlets and publications such as ABC, NBC, FOX, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Money ...

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  1. The number and types of devices that can be subject to malicious software continues to amaze me. Several years ago, I would not have imagined that watches could become sources of personal data for data thieves. However, the reality today is just that, and more types of security become necessary.

    Great article and thoughts.

    Cody Licorish
    Tulane Univ. / Freeman School student

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