It is essential to take extra care when disposing of unneeded gadgets. Discarded devices can seriously compromise your privacy and security if the data they contain falls into the wrong hands.
How Do Thrown Away Gadgets Endanger Privacy?
New models of gadgets like smartphones, tablets, laptops, smart bulbs, and other internet-of-things electronics arrive on store shelves every few months. Devices also get damaged or, eventually, break down. Before long, you’ll likely need to dispose of one or more smart devices.
However, do not throw them into the trash without care, for they can cause you a lot of headaches down the road.
Yes, most of these gadgets may be tiny or basic in function. Still, they most likely have network connectivity. For example, your smart bulb can connect via Wi-Fi. That’s how you can control it to turn on and off at certain times. As for smartphones, laptops, and the like – they can contain sensitive personal information.
For that reason, there is a possibility that even if these gadgets are no longer being used by you, they are still vulnerable to hacking. With the right tools, malicious individuals can obtain essential data stored on them. Alternatively, these electronics can be used as gateways to hacking the rest of your home network.
You may think that throwing away a smart bulb or tiny gas sensor into the trash is of no consequence. But if those are used to tamper with your Wi-Fi network, other systems will be compromised. Criminal elements might disable your security system or smart garage, for example, so that they can gain entry into your home.
Even your broken mobile phone, one that won’t turn on anymore, will still have your information in its memory. If that data is not wiped clean, you can be looking at fraudulent credit card transactions, identity theft, and other dangers.
IoT Devices Are Especially Vulnerable
Many of the cheap smart-home or internet-of-things (IoT) devices currently out there are, unfortunately, designed without encryption. They also present numerous vulnerabilities that everyday users are not aware of.
Take this one example: Limited Results investigated a smart lightbulb that costs around $30 in Amazon. Upon examining the device, they immediately found risk factors that made the users’ credentials vulnerable. For one, that data was only stored on the flash memory in plain text, which means it is easily recoverable by anyone with ill intentions.
The device didn’t even have security settings! It was completely open with no encryptions whatsoever. The manufacturers thought that installing security protocols wasn’t worth it for the device’s price.
Even more unfortunate, this situation is not unique to this particular smart lightbulb. Many more IoT electronics out there are not secure. Users can unwittingly input their data, such as Wi-Fi name and password, and these can be hacked. Some devices even expose their RSA keys. These are used to connect those devices to other servers or the cloud.
By using those keys, someone can manipulate your device to access other crucial data you’ve stored on your network or the cloud. There is real vulnerability here, and anyone can take advantage of that. Of course, this is not something you would want to happen to you. Thankfully, there are measures you can implement to preclude any gadget you throw away from endangering your security.
Protecting Your Privacy and Security
The first step towards preventing the security risks brought about by throwing away gadgets and IoT is to become more aware of the problem they present.
It is also advisable to carry out these steps:
- Remember that price shouldn’t be the only determining factor when it comes to buying smart-home gadgets or other devices. Some manufacturers will sacrifice a lot of things, including the users’ security, so that they can lower the price tags and still earn a profit.
- Read reviews before paying for any electronic. Especially pay attention to those that tackle data privacy.
- If possible, connect your cheap smart-home devices onto a dedicated network, one that’s separate from the system you use more heavily. Doing so is an excellent way to minimize the damage just in case one of your discarded IoT devices is used to breach your home network.
- Ensure that your router is password protected.
- Change your device and Wi-Fi passwords regularly. Do this especially after you throw a device in the trash.
- For smartphones, laptops, and other computers – it is best to wipe their memories clean of any valuable data before disposing of them. If you cannot do this yourself, it is best to seek assistance from a tech professional.
- Check your cloud files and see which devices have access to your cloud accounts. Take preventive measures as necessary, such as transferring or password-protecting any crucial data.
- It is best to deliver your electronic waste to proper recycling or e-waste management centers. That will lessen the chances of misuse for those discarded devices.
The more gadgets you introduce into your home and life, the more you should be thinking about your security both online and offline. Even if these gadgets have reached the end of their lifecycles, we all should still be mindful about them. Take the necessary steps to safeguard your privacy and critical personal data before and after throwing any gadget into the trash.