Welcome to the Internet of Things. Please check your privacy at the door.

Several things can happen to your IoT data, and most of them are bad. Here are the biggest things you need to worry about.

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The fact is, hackers probably aren't all that interested in how many steps you took today or how hard you're cranking the air conditioning. The bigger threat is when they exploit vulnerabilities in IoT devices to gain access to information they do care about, like the traffic flowing across your home network, which may include banking passwords and other valuable information.

[ Related: IoT's dark side: Hundreds of unsecured devices open to attack ]

To an attacker, a vulnerable IoT device is no different than misconfigured server, laptop, or desktop computer, says Richard Henderson, a security strategist for Fortinet's FortiGuard Threat Research and Response Labs.

“I am aware of security issues in some popular devices that create 'smart outlets', as well as devices like webcams,” says Henderson. “We know that advanced attackers will use any vector available to them to gain an initial foothold into their target's environment. Using a smart outlet as a springboard is no different than using a laptop.”

Right now, smart home devices are at low risk from being targeted by attackers, says Mika Stahlberg, director of strategic threat research at F-Secure. That's partly because there just aren't enough smart home devices, and because there are far richer targets available -- like corporate servers containing millions of records. Eventually, though, they could become a target.

“If you are extremely worried about your privacy and security, the only way to really stay safe is to not buy and use these gadgets,” writes Stahlberg. “However, for most people, the time-saving convenience benefits of IoT and the Smart Home will outweigh most privacy and security implications.”

home security threats F-Secure

A handy guide to home security threats.

50 billion devices can be wrong

The risks of the IoT are not lost on government or industry officials, either. But what they can do about it is fairly limited.

In January, the FTC issued a series of guidelines for private companies to follow to minimize some of the threats posed by the IoT. The feds recommended beefing up the pitiful security found in most of these inexpensive devices, minimizing the amount of data they collect, urging companies to retain that data for as short a period as practical, and giving users notice and choice about how their data is being used.

The agency has also taken action against companies that advertised their IoT products as “secure” when they were in fact not. In addition, several independent organizations are working on security standards for IoT devices, thought they are still likely years away.

Members of the US House of Representatives have formed a new Congressional caucus to educate legislators on the security risks inherent in the IoT. (Whether that's a cause for celebration or concern is a matter of debate.)

Meanwhile, the Internet of Things continues to grow at a phenomenal pace. By the end of this year, some 25 billion devices will be connected to the Internet – a figure that's expected to double by the year 2020, according to Cisco's Internet Business Solutions Group.

What will happen to the petabytes of data the IoT will generate is a question no one today can really answer. But we're forging blindly ahead anyway, hoping solutions appear before anything truly awful happens.

C. A. Burnett writes about privacy and security issues from an undisclosed location.

This story, "Welcome to the Internet of Things. Please check your privacy at the door." was originally published by ITworld.


Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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