7 Hidden Dangers of Wearable Computers

Wearable computers like smart clothes and smart watches offer a myriad of benefits, but also raise security concerns. Here are 7 worries associated with wearable devices.

Wearable worries

Wearable computers, like fitness bands, digital glasses, medical devices and smart phones promise to radically transform the manner in which information is collected, delivered and used by, and about, people. Many of the emerging technologies promise significant, and potentially revolutionary, user benefits. But as with most Internet-connected devices, the growing proliferation of wearables has spawned both privacy and security concerns.

Wearable technologies enable capture and collection of amazingly detailed information about an individual’s life, including their lifestyle choices, personal health, location, movement and daily routines. Without the right privacy controls, such data could end up being used in ways never imagined or intended. And without the right security controls, data gathered by such devices could enable identity theft, stalking, fraud and other crimes.

Lifeblogging tools

GPS-enabled, wearable cameras like the Narrative Clip and Autographer allow users to document and share virtually every instant of their lives. The tiny, always-on cameras are designed to automatically take and store thousands of photos a day.

Users simply clip the camera on their shirtfront, lapel, tie, handbag, or anywhere on the body and capture photos of everybody and everything they come into contact with. The photos can be uploaded to the device maker’s website and organized for playback in a variety of ways.

The obvious danger is that while the cameras can create a detailed journal of an individual’s life, they can also invade the privacy of friends and others being photgraphed without their knowledge or permission.

Man wearing Google Glass

Digital glasses

One of the biggest privacy concerns with emerging smart eyewear like Google Glass, Vuzix M100, Lumus and the Epson Moverio BT-200 is that they allow wearers to surreptitiously record and transmit images of people and activities in their range of vision. Soon, such capabilities will become available even with prescription glasses and contact lenses, making smart glasses even more unobtrusive and hard to spot than today.

When coupled with facial recognition software, smart glasses could become an even bigger privacy headache. FacialNetwork.com’s recently released NameTag application for instance, will let “a user can simply glance at someone nearby and instantly see that person’s name, occupation and even visit their Facebook, Instagram or Twitter profiles in real-time,” according to the company.

 

x-ray image of a pacemaker

Wearable/embedded medical devices

Many wearable medical devices such as insulin pumps, glucose monitors and pacemakers these days are wireless-enabled, making them vulnerable to hacking attacks. More than two years ago, a researcher at the Black Hat security conference showed how an attacker could take control of an insulin pump from a half-mile away to deliver a potentially lethal dose to the user. Another researcher has demonstrated how the wireless protocols in modern pacemakers could be exploited to deliver a fatal 830-volt shock to someone wearing the device.

Concerns over such threats prompted doctors for former vice president Dick Cheney to disable the wireless capability of his heart pump. The U.S. FDA has also expressed concern over the issue and urged device makers to address wireless vulnerabilities.

Police officer wearing a ear mounted camera
TASER International

Cop cams

Wearable police cams allow police officers to record audio and video of their interaction with others and capture the actions of those around them as well. The miniature cameras can be clipped on an officer’s sunglasses, collar, helmet or epaulette and promise to enable reliable documentary evidence of police encounters with the public. Some cameras, like Taser International’s Axon Flex allow video to be streamed real-time via Bluetooth to smartphones.

The key danger is the ability of law enforcement to edit the collected videos, or to use the technology for mass surveillance. Such possibilities have captured the attention of advocacy organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Samsung phone and Galaxy Gear smartwatch

Smartwatches

Apple’s long-rumored iWatch and other emerging iOS and Android-powered smartwatches like the Pebble and the Samsung Galaxy Gear could soon pose a new headache for enterprise security organizations.

The watches, which are really small GPS-enabled computers, are capable of interfacing with Bluetooth enabled devices and provide easy access to applications and data on smartphones and other devices. The watches let users receive text notifications and phone calls on their wrist and could someday provide access to enterprise data and applications as well.

Analysts expect that smartwatches will soon need to be made part of a broader enterprise mobile device management and security strategy along with policies already in place to deal with employee use of smartphones.

Smart clothing

Smart clothing technology like Sensatex Inc.’s SmartShirt System and Under Armor’s E39 compression shirt enable remote monitoring of a wearer’s heart rate, breathing, and other vital signs. Besides helping athletes identify and address performance issues, such clothing could also be used to monitor the vital signs of elderly and invalid patients, those in post-operative care, and those in hazardous conditions, like soldiers and firefighters.

Similar technologies could be used in clothes worn by factory workers or truck drivers to track their movements and monitor for signs of fatigue or other problems, raising potential privacy issues. The danger: Biometric and physiological data gathered from the shirts is typically transmitted via Bluetooth or protocols such as Zigbee making it vulnerable to interception and compromise.

Fitbit on wrist

Fitness bands/activity monitors

Fitness bands like the Basis B1 Band, Fitbit, Jawbone UP and Nike+ let users set and work towards fitness goals by tracking daily activitiy levels, how many calories they burn and how long they sleep. Someday, insurance and healthcare companies could use the data to tie insurance premiums to an individual’s lifestyle factors.

Federal officials have reportedly expressed concern over how such personal data will be secured and used even as some companies have begun encouraging employees to wear fitness bands, promising lower insurance rates. Some data already collected has been used in clinical research studies involving diseases such as diabetes, COPD and obesity.

 covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld