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Is your Smartwatch Secure, or Could It Make You a Target for Cybercriminals?

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Smartwatches became all the rage with tech-savvy consumers when they hit the market in 2015. With all the high-tech features of a smaller smartphone right on your wrist, and even some new bells and whistles, what could go wrong, right?

Unfortunately, a lot. But that doesn’t mean you have to ditch your favorite new gadget. But, as with any modern technology, it’s best to understand the security risks to protect yourself from vulnerabilities that open the door to cybercriminals. 

After all, roughly one-in-five U.S. adults (21%) say they regularly wear a smartwatch or wearable fitness tracker, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in June 2019.

What do smartwatch fans love about them? They are undoubtedly incredibly convenient and useful in dozens of ways. If you don’t enjoy pulling your phone out constantly but you want to stay on top of calendar events, texts, emails, and phone calls. 

Smartwatches are great for checking notifications. You can pay for a manicure, a lawnmower at Home Depot, or basically anything else with contactless payment right from your wrist. If you misplace your phone, your watch is your new best friend, sending a signal so you can find it. You can also:

  • Play music
  • Listen to podcasts
  • Record meetings
  • Dictate memos
  • Navigate around an unfamiliar city
  • Track health data

Tracking health data can be great for monitoring your steps, miles walked/run, workouts, heart rate, and it can even be life-saving in a crisis. Read more in-depth about that in our article, How Mobile Internet Tech Can Save Your Life

Wearables can save your life. As the Boston Globe points out, a man was rescued by his watch during a cycling excursion in Martha’s Vineyard. He had no recollection of calling 911 because he didn’t. The watch did. 

Smartwatches have gone through several iterations since they first burst on the scene. But as with any technology, there are bad actors out there who are looking for an angle to get their hands on your precious personal data. 

Let’s look at some of the smartwatch security issues you should be aware of as well as precautionary measures you need to take to prevent hacking and identity theft. 

Security issues for Smartwatches

Smartwatches collect a ton of personal data about you

Whether it’s health information, financial data, or location data, you may have provided more information than you realize, depending on what apps you’ve installed. 

Your data may be sent to many third parties

As Norton Antivirus’ site points out, smartwatches — whether they are Apple or Android devices — come with privacy policies. Reading the policy will tell you how much or how little information is shared.

For smartwatch apps, it’s a good idea to not give a lot of permissions. For instance, some apps may want to access account information and your geographical location. This would be valuable information for cybercriminals if they’ve managed to infect your smartwatch with spyware.

Smartwatches control smart-home tech

You can set your watch up to control smart-home technology. For instance, you may be able to use your smartwatch to unlock your front door, which is a great convenience. But have you thought about what could happen if your watch is lost or stolen?

Norton points out smartwatch manufacturers offer security settings that can help protect you in the case of theft. For instance, a security setting may prevent your smartwatch from being paired with any device you haven’t approved. It’s wise to make sure you’ve enabled such protection in your security settings.

Smartwatches create vulnerabilities on business networks

Any network that your phone is connected to may also be linked to your watch. This opens up not only your personal information but also sensitive work documents as well. 

The solution? Keep smart tech on a guest network.

Health data is shared

Yes, it’s great when the doctor is alerted that you’ve fallen and may need assistance. However, concerns have been raised over who can and should have access to this health data. Military analysts have also expressed concern about how third parties can use the data to find out where there is an American military presence.

Phishing 

When you download a fraudulent app and enter any personal info into it, you open yourself up to phishing scams. 

Kids are at risk

According to Wired Magazine, Kids’ smartwatches are a security nightmare, despite years of warnings. In a paper published in Germany, tests were run on the security of six brands of smartwatches marketed for kids. 

They’re designed to send and receive voice and text messages, and let parents track their child’s location from a smartphone app. The researchers found that hackers could abuse those features to track a target child’s location using the watch’s GPS in five out of the six brands of watch they tested. 

Several of the watches had even more severe vulnerabilities, allowing hackers to send voice and text messages to children that appear to come from their parents, to intercept communications between parents and children, and even to record audio from a child’s surroundings to eavesdrop on them. 

This is all pretty alarming when you think of what could happen to children. The Münster researchers shared their findings with the smartwatch companies in April, but say that several of the bugs they disclosed have yet to be fixed.

How to ensure your smartwatch is secure

The best way to start being proactive in protecting yourself is to make sure you utilize your existing smartwatch privacy features. 

Block unauthorized pairing. Take advantage of the activation lock setting on your smartwatch. If someone steals your watch, this safety feature will prevent criminals from getting at your valuable personal information. 

Make sure the watch you buy has two-factor authentication that uses a follow-up confirmation on one of your devices. This can be a pretty strong deterrent for hackers and thieves to bypass.

Activate all the protection features your smartwatch offers, including the PIN you choose to unlock the device, as well as a lock feature if you’re too far from your phone.

Secure your paired smartphone

Since your devices talk to each other, smartphone safety is essential. The data exchange between devices may leave you vulnerable to hacks, so it’s more important than ever to be vigilant about guarding information when it comes to social media apps, banking apps, and any other kind of personal data.

Keep your device up to date

Be sure to get your phone’s most current updates. Operating systems (Windows for PCs, macOS for Apple), are updated often, between new versions. Phones update their operating system as well, especially to close up leaks that hackers may have discovered. You can get an update from your phone directly, or you can sync your phone with your computer.

Use a virtual private network connection (VPN) 

One expert said, “a VPN is like a personal bodyguard for the Internet.” Why?  

A VPN allows you to encrypt your internet connection. For a deeper dive, read our Why Use a VPN article here

The convenience of smartwatches will likely drive continued demand. But it’s a good idea to understand the risks going in so you can take steps to help protect your information.

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