Spyware in the IoT – What Does it Mean for Your Online Privacy?

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In the early days of the Internet, hackers and cybercriminals targeted desktop and laptop owners. Specifically, users on the Windows operating system were the primary victims because of the widespread popularity of that platform.

Over time, the risk of computer viruses has morphed and evolved into a much more menacing and wide-ranging threat. Most devices we use in our homes and offices now come with network cards that can connect to Wi-Fi after a simple configuration setup. But with each device you add to your network, the overall risk of attack increases significantly.

Spyware, in particular, has become a growing trend in the modern age, as smart devices are capable of tracking our behavior and actions. In this article, we’ll explore what this all means for your online privacy and how you can best protect yourself [1].

Introduction to the Internet of Things

Manufacturers have long been working to make machines more intelligent, but the term Internet of Things (IoT) did not emerge until 1999 [2]. The first proof of concept used an Internet-enabled soda machine that could let vendors know if there were cold cans in stock or not.

In the two decades since the coining of the IoT phrase, cloud computing has emerged, evolved, and expanded on a massive scale, taking the IoT with it [3]. To put it simply, an IoT device is any physical piece of hardware that has support for Ethernet or Wi-Fi networking. Sometimes this Internet ability is designed to communicate with the manufacturer or the actual user.

The IoT has come to be strongly connected to the industrial sector, which is making huge investments in smart technology to capture better data on their own machines and processes. For example, energy companies are now deploying smart sensors that can report on conditions and statuses from anywhere across the globe.

But the IoT also has a consumer element to it. Individuals and families have found that, with smart devices, their day-to-day life can be made more efficient. This has spawned a whole new market of gadgets, including everything from smart light bulbs to smart coffee makers to voice assistants that can respond to audio commands.

Spyware Attacks on Smart Devices

The vast majority of cyberattacks originate over the open Internet. Hackers rarely have physical access to the systems that they want to target so instead they look to infiltrate them through networking means. Any vulnerability on your local network can lead to a wide-scale breach [4].

Adding new smart devices to your home network increases the risk of attack. Because IoT gadgets often have simplified operating systems and configuration, they are seen by hackers as an easy point of entry. Once a security bug has been uncovered on a specific device, a larger attack can be initiated on any individual who owns one.

Spyware in particular has become a danger for IoT gadgets [5]. It’s hard to detect and can run in the background of any Internet-capable device. With spyware, a hacker is aiming to track activity via the operating system and then send that data to the cybercriminal behind the attack.

If you own IoT devices that connect to your online accounts with a stored username and password, then those credentials could be included in a potential breach. This is one way hackers are able to break into email accounts or banking systems and steal a person’s identity.

Because of the range of functions that IoT hardware can support, the ramifications of spyware are truly alarming. Consider the danger of having a voice assistant or smart webcam hacked in your home. It could mean that the attacker has full access to audio or video feeds of the activity—in your house! [6]

Securing Your Home Network

Unfortunately, scanning for malware and spyware on IoT devices is not as simple as it is on a desktop or laptop computer. Most of these gadgets do not have display screens and cannot run normal cybersecurity tools. For this reason, it’s critical to defend against attacks at the network layer [7].

If you can prevent hackers from gaining entry onto your home network, then you will significantly reduce the risk of one of your smart devices becoming compromised. Having a complex password on your Wi-Fi router is not good enough protection. Cybercriminals can actually bypass that security measure and hijack the administrative functions of the router.

Integrating a virtual private network (VPN) client on your home network is one of the best steps you can take. Normally, you think of VPN’s in the context of a remote worker wanting to access internal resources, such as a restricted database, over the open Internet. But you can actually configure a VPN on your local router to add security to your entire network [8].

Once set up, the router VPN will encrypt all data that enters or leaves your home, including all of the IoT devices you are using. If a hacker tries to intercept any of this data, it will be impossible to decode.

If you are concerned that spyware may already be running on one of your smart gadgets, you should act quickly and disable its network card. Then reset the device to its factory settings, which will erase all data on it and stop any background processes [9].

The Bottom Line

Spyware is one of the most dangerous forms of cyberattack because of how it can run undetected and allow a hacker to monitor every click you make and keystroke you hit. Those who fall victim to such a scheme often end up having confidential data stolen, such as passwords or credit card numbers.

In order to preserve your online privacy, you need to take steps to secure all of your Internet-capable devices, especially those that fall under the IoT umbrella. These gadgets offer a wealth of opportunities but also create new risks.

About the Author

Sam Bocetta is a freelance journalist specializing in U.S. diplomacy and national security, with an emphasis on technology trends in cyber warfare, cyber defense, and cryptography.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of EC-Council.



  1. https://fee.org/articles/have-consumers-already-lost-the-online-privacy-war/
  2. https://www.vistacollege.edu/blog/careers/how-cloud-computing-is-changing-it/
  3. https://www.dataversity.net/brief-history-internet-things/
  4. https://www.tripwire.com/state-of-security/security-data-protection/data-breach
  5. https://www.bbc.co.uk/webwise/guides/about-spyware
  6. https://www.zdnet.com/article/cover-your-webcam-this-stealthy-spyware-records-video-and-audio/
  7. https://blog.eccouncil.org/12-data-protection-tips-for-businesses-and-individuals/
  8. https://privacycanada.net/best-vpn-routers/
  9. https://developer.ibm.com/articles/iot-anatomy-iot-malware-attack/
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