With the evolution and increase in growth of the use of many connected technologies, cybersecurity threats will follow.
Not might, not could, but will. We need to accept that as fact.
The threat is so real that October is set aside as National Cybersecurity Awareness Month by the Department of Homeland Security and this year we celebrate the 15th year of this initiative.
Their stated goal is to bring together government and industry to ensure that consumers have the resources they need to be secure online in the fight against cyber threats.
However, it is important for us to remember that we all have a share in the responsibility of cybersecurity, even if we are simply smartphone users.
Did you know that 10% of all iTunes downloads are for health and medical apps? That involves some of our most sensitive personal data.
We are all in some way dependent on a digital system rife with networks that open our seniors up to cyber risk.
In many cases, family caregivers are the ones who will protect their senior loved ones from risk when using all of their connected devices that bring them so many benefits.
By 2020, the market for connected devices will be 200 billion units.
Perform a Connected Device Survey
The first step toward device security is know which devices in your senior’s home need to be secured.
Most of us realize our computers, tablets, and smartphones are connected to the web and need to be protected, but our other connected devices may not be so obvious to us.
Which devices in your senior’s (or your own) home may be “connected”?
- Computing devices, including desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones (yes, these are computing devices)
- E-book readers
- Smart speakers, such as Amazon Echo and Google Home
- Smart thermostats, such as Ecobee and Nest
- Fitness trackers
- Smart watches
- Health devices that provide data via smartphone apps, such as heart rate and blood pressure monitors, pill organizers, bathroom scales, and more
- Smart outlets, such as might be used to control lamps and other equipment via app
- Bluetooth wireless headsets
- Smart TVs and devices connected to TVs, such as Tivo, Apple TV, and Roku
- Smart kitchen appliances and laundry equipment
- Home security and monitoring systems and cameras
…and more, with the number of connected devices for the home growing all the time.
When thinking about the connected computing devices in a home, don’t forget the devices of guests who are allowed to connect to the home’s WiFi service (and even neighbors, if the WiFi is not secured).
How do you determine which devices in the home are connected to the web? Almost all are connected via the home’s WiFi network, cellular network, or via Bluetooth connection to one of the other connected devices, typically a smartphone.
Many devices are connected to the web via the WiFi router in the home. A list of these devices can be found on the router’s network map, which can be found by logging into the router via a browser on the device connected to it or the mobile app many new routers provide.
If you don’t know how to do this, it’s a good thing to learn, as the router is a primary hub for keeping all the connected devices in the home secure.
While looking at the router, check to see if there is a firmware update available and, if so, update it when you have a few minutes when connection to the web isn’t needed. Firmware functions like the operating system of your smartphone, playing a big role in the security of your network.
You can identify the devices connected by Bluetooth to smartphones, tablets, and even computers by checking the Bluetooth settings in the devices.
Those setting will show which devices have “registered” via Bluetooth with the computer device in the past and which, if any, are actively connected.
Once the connected devices in the home are identified, you can set out to ensure they’re secure, or at least as secure as practical.
What Should Caregivers Know About Medical Device Security
Medical devices, just as your senior’s computer or smartphone, are connected devices that are at risk for security breaches.
Did you know many medical devices have an expected lifespan of up to 30 years but the software itself may be obsolete in only 2 to 10 years — and maybe even less?
There are two potential areas of worry when it comes to cyber security with medical devices. One dangerous risk is the failure of the device to work as it was intended and the other danger is the loss of personal information that could be used for ID theft.
The FDA approves most medical devices in use today but only that their benefits outweigh their security risk. This doesn’t mean that there are no risks if a devices is approved. They do not test products for security risk but leave that voluntarily to the manufacturer. They are more concerned with the efficacious functioning of the device to do as it is intended such as pump your heart, register your blood sugar or administer IV medications.
Experts believe that only 51% of manufacturers are following the FDA guidelines for risk mitigation.
The problem with vulnerable connected health devices is that their breaches can result in potentially harmful failures of the safety and effectiveness of the very devices our seniors need to manage and treat chronic health conditions.
When the medical devices are connected to healthcare systems for monitoring, it is incumbent upon the healthcare system to put in place security measures to prevent cyber security issues from occurring on their network especially when securing your senior’s personal data.
Malware is considered one of the most serious threats to medical devices at this time. A device that has been infected with malware could malfunction, giving inaccurate data that could cause a harmful situation for your senior’s health.
Security experts say hacking of medical devices seems to be less of a concern currently.
The most vulnerable area in cyber security for a medical device is the user authentication, according to industry experts. This is where the hacker enters the picture.
Hackers are known for draining the battery of medical devices, which could lead to failure, especially in pacemakers and wearables. Experts encourage users to set up passwords on these devices and don’t keep the initial defaults established with the device’s use to block authentication troubles and hacking.
These devices also need their firmware updated regularly and potential security upgrades patched in when necessary. When you and your senior are prompted to do so, be sure to update the software.
Steps for Caregivers to Secure Seniors’ Tech
Caregivers, once they understand the risks that are inherent with connected devices, especially for health, can take steps to protect the security of their senior’s (and their own) devices.
Here are some things you both should be doing to stay safe and avoid becoming a victim of cyber criminals:
- Lock your devices, including phone and tablets, to keep prying eyes out and criminals away.
- Install malware protection apps or software to do all you can to keep your connected devices ‘clean’ and more secure.
- Conduct regular scans on your internet connected devices to check for viruses or spyware and keep your software up to date (don’t ignore the update alerts on your computer, tablet, or smartphone).
- If you use USB external devices, scan those for viruses and malware too.
- Use strong passwords that aren’t easy for others to guess. Remember, criminals look at your social media and know your pet’s name and your birthdate! Write them down in a safe place away from the device. Better yet, use a secure password vault-type app.
- Be sure you are using the latest biometrics and two-part authentication systems to further strengthen your security for all connected devices.
- Clean out any unused apps and ensure the ones you keep have been regularly updated, along with your smartphone operating system.
- Try not to use public WiFi at all, opting instead to use cellular data. Yes, it may be more expensive but can save you a great deal in security. If you must, use extreme caution if you link with free wireless hotspots where your connection can be easily compromised and your personal information taken or spyware implanted.
- Don’t open emailed documents or links or text message links from people, even those you know or think you know like a bank, IRS, or package delivery company (they often aren’t real!) unless you are expecting that specific person to send you the document or link
- Have you cleaned out digital files on your computer lately? Are there things on there you no longer need but could divulge personal information to someone untrustworthy if you lose the device or it is stolen? Time to declutter the desktop, laptop or smartphone.
- Before you toss out any digital device (USBs, external hard drives, flash memory, wearables and even printers), ensure you know that they have been “shredded” correctly to remove any traces of your personal information. This is important for all devices not just computers and phones.
- Empty your trash file regularly but also use a program that will permanently wipe your data off your device making it irretrievable.
- Keep all IoT smart home connected devices – such as thermostats, toys and home assistants – up to date with the latest firmware and any available security software.
- The internet is still in ink so be careful about the information that is posted on social media platforms which could compromise your cyber security in the future.
- Secure your home WiFi Router with a strong password to keep unwelcome visitors out.
- Disable Bluetooth and WiFi when out of the house since some places track your movements on your devices when you are within range.
The only way to be fully secure is not to connect your device to the web — or maybe even to avoid turning it on. From a practical standpoint, though, in this age of technology, it has become almost impossible to not be connected.
All the wonderful benefits your senior can get from using innovative technology for health, safety, and aging in place independence bring with them risks associated with being connected to the web. We can help our loved ones minimize those risks and use their devices safely and securely.
Many of our senior loved ones won’t use connected devices if they live in fear the devices are not safe.
That puts it in our hands as family caregivers to address that fear and, hopefully, put it to rest.