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Ericsson: Smart Home Privacy: How to Avoid ‘Data Paparazzi’

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Smart home tablet Data Paparazzi

The paparazzi are known for often taking covert photographs of celebrities and selling them to tabloids or gossip magazines.

In a similar vein, could the increasing number of smart, connected devices coming into our lives start acting like covert “data paparazzi”? And what can we do to avoid it? Find out here.

Today, our devices collect and forward information to all sorts of external parties: our home security alarm provider, our electricity supplier, our fitness watch vendor, our car manufacturer, and so on. Smart assistants listen to our voice commands and take that information to the internet to execute our orders.

But smart devices go beyond the obvious too – they can be anything from a connected toaster to a washing machine, sewing machine, or a toothbrush!

Data from one device may not be a problem, but combining data from several devices could create a pattern that may reveal unwanted information about a user or a business. And with more devices coming into homes, concerns around the way personal data is managed, controlled and used by devices and organizations are increasingly being raised.

Each new device may introduce a new security risk, if not properly managed through its life cycle. The security risks must be handled by all actors in the value chain, including the device owner, regardless if devices are used by consumers, industries, or smart cities.

So what will be important to think about to ensure that users benefit and get value from devices and their related services, but avoid adding security issues? Should we risk unintentionally becoming surrounded by data paparazzi with their viewfinder aimed at us?

In this blog post, we’ll bring some light on to what these factors mean for the device owner and what can be done to confront it.

Smart devices and privacy: the big picture

Many of us already interact with at least 3 to 5 devices daily – a smartphone or even two, a smart watch, a tablet PC, a work laptop, and maybe a smart TV. One estimate is that by 2030, each of us will own 15 connected devices. Some devices, like a connected car or smart meter, are connected by default and typically managed by the company the user is a customer of. They typically rely on cellular connectivity. For many other devices, the users themselves select and provide the connectivity, often Wi-Fi or cellular, and are personally responsible for the management of the devices.

Above all, the network infrastructure and devices need to be secure. It’s important for us all that we can trust how our devices operate and handle data. It will also be important to ensure device security through the life cycle of the devices. With the fast growth and wide of range of smart and connected devices from different brands – that come with different user interfaces and functions – it might be cumbersome to keep all devices up to date in terms of firmware and security status, for example, from the day the device is purchased until its recycled. However, this is a key requirement for enabling a secure and trustworthy IoT environment.

GDPR and similar efforts have raised more attention to privacy from the general public. As people become more informed and want to know how their devices and information are used and managed, there will be an increased need for tools that enable identifying, verifying, and controlling the data the devices are collecting and sharing.

The data paparazzi problem

Let’s now go into some issues that celebrities have to deal with, regarding paparazzi and stalkers, and how similar situations can also occur in the IoT world. We’ll also reveal if similar mitigation strategies can work for both regular, and data paparazzi.

Information availability

While the saying goes that “all publicity is good publicity”, many celebrities wouldn’t agree. They want to be in control of the information shared about them, to build a relevant public image but avoid revealing private relations, unattractive personal habits, or similar.

The same thinking is behind IoT security; information that’s needed to complete the intended tasks of an IoT device should be made available, while the rest of the information should be kept private. However, for IoT there’s often a more fine-grained approach as the information made available should in many cases only be made available to a restricted group of observers on a need-to-know basis.

The stalker problem

Many celebrities might also have to deal with stalkers – individuals who are overly interested in them and may try to gain as much information about them as possible, even using illegal means.

In the IoT space, the same phenomenon could happen to the average Joe. A smart home that doesn’t restrict access to the information it generates can easily become a lucrative target for an attacker; the information generated by the home can be used to gather different information about the inhabitants, which could later be leveraged to commit a cyber attack. Information about when various appliances are used, such as when doors are opened, lights are switched on/off, energy consumption fluctuates, can be a real treasure trove. This also means that potential attackers might not skip a house just because there’s some security applied, rather the security needs to be good enough that it deters attackers from trying, or stops them in their tracks.

Mitigation strategies

Celebrities tend to take precautions to hinder paparazzi and stalkers from invading their privacy. This can be in the form of living in gated communities or at least having access control to their property, through walls and gates for example. They might also apply surveillance measures such as motion sensors and surveillance cameras, and even security measures such as guards or guard dogs. When moving about in public, they might have a security guard with them to keep interested parties at least at arm’s length.

The same things need to be considered in the IoT world. For example, in smart homes, access to the internal network and the data generated and stored there should be controlled and protected, monitoring should be applied to pick up on suspicious behaviour, and reactive security measures, such as blocking and logging, should be taken when a breach is detected.

What has been normal for celebrities should now also become the standard for anyone in an IoT environment. When it comes to privacy, active measures should be taken to maintain it. While this might sound scary – and without proper actions, it would be – it’s not something that’s difficult to achieve. Rather it’s about having the right mindset and recognizing that security needs to be built in and considered more and more in the connected world, even for private citizens.

What to protect?

IoT is very much about the data generated and consumed by IoT devices. At first, this data may be seen as producing no risk, but even simple data in a certain context may be sensitive. For example:

  • Power consumption data recorded by a smart meter can provide a lot of information about what’s happening in a home. For example, based on the power consumption profile of TVs, switching on the TV will be visible from the data and if it’s possible to match the time the TV is turned on with the TV guide, that will provide a good indication as to what people at home are watching.
  • Any competent smart lock manufacturer will make sure that the communication with the lock is encrypted and its integrity protected. However, this might not be enough; by observing the traffic generated by a smart lock, one could potentially deduce whether the lock has been opened from the inside or the outside and thereby predict if there’s anyone in the house at any given moment. Other data generated by a smart home, including power consumption and light switch data, can be used to improve the prediction.
  • It’s inevitable that, at some point, an electric device will reach the end of its lifetime and will need to be disposed of. If the information stored on the device isn’t properly removed, a hacker who retrieves the device from a waste bin or who purchases it from a second-hand store could dig out data or credentials, as well as information about the services the device has been connected to. This is information that could be used to spy on the owner in a more efficient way, or even control or modify other devices belonging to the owner from the backend.

The question, therefore, shouldn’t be, “what do I need to protect?”, rather, “what don’t I need to protect?”, meaning “what do I actually need to share?”.

How to avoid unauthorized use of private data

There’s no silver bullet solution to this problem and the complexity is proportional to the number of devices and services that we as individuals interact with. Applying the best security practices is the responsibility of many entities. Device manufacturers and service providers need to provide secure devices/services, with proper control and maintenance for future proof device security.

But there are some rules of thumb that each of us can follow to minimize security and privacy issues related to our devices. By following these recommendations, one can build a system that will withstand a great deal of malicious intent, and deter the vast majority of attackers and opportunists. A few highly skilled and well-connected groups or individuals might be able to get past even the most secure systems, often through social engineering and phishing, that is, human weakness, rather than by technical security exploits. However, with the effort required, “average Joe” is maybe not the typical target.

End-user responsibilities include selecting suitable and secure solutions, and installing and configuring them in a secure way. Well-designed products should make this a relatively easy task, but it can also be done with the help of professionals. Furthermore, there are initiatives such as the Finnish Cybersecurity Label providing security labels for IoT devices, which aim to help consumers select products for which security has been verified.

Another important thing is to remember to update the software of the device.

And based on statistics regarding how a system’s security most often fails, a crucial task for the end-user is to remember to change the default password of all and any devices that are installed.

What can I do as a device owner?

  • Check whether the device manufacturer/service provider offers firmware/software upgrades in case of security issues.
  • Consider what data is generated and how it’s used and stored, for example, locally and/or in the cloud.
  • Check user terms and conditions to find out how data is used.
  • Remember to change the default device password.
  • Remember to keep device software up to date.
  • Remember to wipe the device before recycling.

And remember to consider the trustworthiness of a device and its services before purchase!

More reading

Read about Ericsson’s contribution to IoT security protocol standard OSCORE, which aims to optimize the computational strain on constrained devices, and keep a low overhead, while maintaining a high level of security.

Read our blog post on evolving SIM solutions for IoT. Such solutions allow the use of the well-established identity management features of mobile networks also for IoT deployments where manual SIM card handling isn’t feasible.

Explore Ericsson telecom security and security management.

Learn more about our research into the future of network security.

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Feature/OPED

Islamic Estate Planning: Protect Your Family and Leave a Legacy

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Islamic Estate Planning

By FBNQuest

Islamic estate planning involves the distribution of your assets that serve to preserve, manage, and distribute them after death according to the principles of the Shari’ah.

According to the Islamic ordinance, those principles are significant in planning for dependents and represent an investment in the afterlife.

Islamic inheritance laws organise your wealth ownership and assets to ensure fairness and justice after your passing. Instead of leaving the tough decisions to grieving family members, you can arrange the gifting of your assets in advance. This creates a streamlined process for the distribution of the inheritance to all family members.

Islamic estate planning is essential in the life of Muslim faithful. Indeed, if you pass away as a Muslim without a proper plan for your assets, you may be breaching the bequest guidance stated in the Holy Book, which serves as an instruction manual for a Muslim’s life.

However, many are not concerned with making an inheritance plan, even though a failure to make one could trigger intense family debate and hinder the transfer of some assets to specific beneficiaries.

According to the guiding principles of Islamic estate planning, after covering the funeral expenses and debts owed by the deceased, a person may designate up to one-third of their wealth.

This discretionary giving is known as the Wasiyyah. However, there are limitations to this discretionary giving.

For example, Wasiyyah cannot be given to someone already receiving a share under the Islamic inheritance laws. The Wasiyyah is most commonly given to charity or to care for distant relatives who cannot provide for themselves.

The residual two-thirds is the Mirath and is reserved for the Islamic heirs as ordained in the Holy Book. Primary beneficiaries are those who will inherit some of your wealth, provided that they are alive and Muslim. These are your spouse, children, and parents, and they receive a fixed share of the wealth.

Secondary beneficiaries are those whose share of the inheritance is contingent on whether other primary beneficiaries are still alive. These may include siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, and other relatives. It is vital to appreciate the rights and obligations relating to an estate.

In preparing to bequeath an inheritance, it is crucial to organise your wealth in a manner that will make assets acceptable for consideration in an Islamic estate plan.

In this regard, investments should be screened for compliance with Islamic estate ethics, and investments in interest-bearing assets are disqualified.

Instead, it would help if you endeavoured to invest in increasingly popular Sukuk bonds. You should consider Mudarabah Investment accounts as substitutes to fixed deposit accounts and subscribe to a family takaful policy instead of a life insurance policy in your saving plans.

As for pension assets, you should opt for a multi-fund structure with an option to invest in Shari’ah-compliant instruments.

Zakat, the third pillar of Islam, is a compulsory giving required from every financially stable Muslim. Those who have acquired wealth are obligated to respond to people in need and give back to the community. This response could include sponsoring widows or the education students and organising in a charitable Trust as part of an Islamic estate plan.

Therefore, you must consult a professional estate planner to assist with setting up a Trust arrangement where 2.5% of your assets/wealth is set aside annually for Zakat.

Several other tools can be used to organise the transfer of assets to a specific beneficiary. They include Hiba (making gifts), Waqf (setting up an endowment or trust), Wasiyya (transfers by donation), and it is appointing a Wasi or guardian for living dependents. Getting it right requires a thorough understanding of the principles of Islamic estate planning and the various assets available to achieve compliance.

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Governor Okowa’s 2023 Presidency; an Objective Analysis

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Governor Okowa's 2023 Presidency

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

This piece stemmed from three recent developments in the country. First is the latest argument by development minded Nigerians that the nation’s perennial leadership haemorrhage/crisis is aggregated by a successive deficiency in leadership vision and in some cases made worse by public officials’ understanding and interpretation of problems with clarity but lacking in political will to see through or implement solutions. A development that has made the nation in dire need of a system that works, a government that caters for its citizens, especially the youths, secures lives and property while bolstering the economy.

The second and very germane is the Southern Governors Forum insistence that the presidency must shift to the southern part of the country come 2023, coupled with the recent decision by the main opposition party in Nigeria, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to zone the position of the national chairman of the party to the north.

As we know, it is a political principle embraced by major political parties in Nigeria that each time the national chairman of a political party emerges from the north, the presidential candidate of the same party, usually, emerges from the south where the likes of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State hails from.

Thirdly and most essential has to do with the fresh call by the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Mr Ndudi Elumelu, on Mr Okowa to contest for the presidency of the country in 2023.

The Minority Leader, who spoke at the installation of Rotary Club’s 2nd President for 2021/2022 Rotary Club Year (Club of Asaba Downtown District 9141), pointed out that Governor Okowa should serve as the President of the nation so that he can replicate his achievements in massive infrastructural and human capital development in Delta State at the national level.

He stressed that Governor Okowa was endowed with the capacity and proficiency to rescue the nation from the misrule of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and reposition her to the path of peace, unity and economic prosperity.

“I must commend Governor Okowa for his selfless service and sacrifices that have led to unprecedented massive infrastructural development in our dear state as well as a better living standard for our people.

“Governor Okowa is a rare gift not only to Delta State but also to our nation Nigeria, at large. I firmly hold that he is endowed with the capacity and proficiency to serve our nation at the topmost level so that he can replicate the successes recorded in our state at the national level.

“I sincerely call on him to make him available to serve the nation again. He deserves to be the president of this country, come 2023,” Elumelu stated.

However, despite the popularity of this opinion, it will be antithetical to support a movement based on sentiment or allow sentiment to determine our actions. Therefore, in line with the Christian Holy Book, the Bible, admonished in 1 John 4; 1 that we do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

It will, for reasons, be of considerable significance to place this call under objective analysis to fundamentally help electorates make informed decisions ‘as the ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all’.

To perform this function well, it will necessitate the following posers; Is Governor Okowa capped with vital leadership capacity needed to tame the nation’s perennial ‘leadership haemorrhage/crisis aggregated by a successive deficiency in leadership vision and made worse by public official’s understanding and interpretation of problems with clarity but lacking in political will to see through or implement solutions? Has Governor Okowa truly achieved massive infrastructural and human capital development in Delta State? Has he indeed and in truth demonstrated selfless service and sacrifices as claimed by Mr Elumelu?

Again, going by Elumelu’s claim, another question would be at the federal level, are there signs of misrules on the part of the APC led federal government that calls for Okowa’s attention to reposition the nation to the path of peace, unity and economic prosperity?

Again, on May 29, 2015, amidst cheers and jubilation from the marmot crowd that attended his swearing-in ceremony at the Cenotaph in Asaba, Okowa, going by media reports, told his audience that, “As a government, we are committed to the building and consolidation of a state in which there shall be more employment opportunities, a flourishing agriculture and agribusiness sector, effective health and educational systems, renewed urban infrastructure and enhanced security and peace to bolster economic growth and development.”

Now, looking at the past six years of his administration, it will elicit the question as to how well has the Governor brought these promises to fruition? Also, at the national level, how relevant is Governor Okowa when it comes to issues of national urgent importance? As the current Governor of Delta State, what particulars can Okowa led government point at to convince Nigerians that he can effectively administer the federation?

In providing answers to these nagging questions beginning with the last question, it must be fundamentally underlined that separate from the fact that Delta State, to use the words of Governor Okowa, is a microcosm of Nigeria because she is populated by different ethnic nationalities and has had inter-ethnic conflicts/clashes, fatal boundary disputes, especially over oil-bearing land, and political tensions, a case that in my views qualifies a governor of such state to effectively lead the federation, Governor Okowa, as subsequent paragraph will show, since assumption of office on May 29, 2015, demonstrated that for the leader to distinguish himself, he has to be a shining light and as such, he should be in a position to break the retrogressive tendencies that subsist in doing what one does not wish to do.

To capture this claim well, this piece will further x-ray/classify the achievements of Governor Okowa’s administration into two.

First, achievements at the state levels which has to do with policy objectives/programmes implementation aimed at creating jobs and wealth (wealth creation and employment generation), economic diversification, the democratization of the education sector, infrastructural development, re-jigging/provision of the state’s security architecture in the state, engagement of the youths in productive enterprise, nurture of entrepreneurs and leaders, promotion of communal peace and development of a database of employment and unemployed youths for planning purposes. The second focuses on his unrelenting nation-building efforts at the federal level.

Evidence abounds that the Governor in pursuance of these objectives compressed his programmes into a five-point agenda which is encapsulated in the acronym SMART.

The SMART agenda means Strategic wealth creation projects and provision of jobs for all Deltans; Meaningful peacebuilding platforms aimed at political and social harmony; Agricultural reforms and accelerated industrialization; Relevant health and educational policies and; Transformed environment through urban renewal.

Take the wealth creation and employment generation, as an illustration, the Governor himself recently but succulently captured his achievements in this way; “we have a deliberate policy to tackle youth unemployment through skills training and entrepreneurship development programmes. I believe that the way out of the unemployment quagmire is to equip the youth with the technical know-how, vocational skills, values and resources to become self-employed, as distinct from one-off empowerment. This is what my administration has done by instituting various skills training and entrepreneurship development programmes, which include: Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP); Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP); Graduate Employment Enhancement Programme (GEEP); Rural Youth Skills Acquisition Programme (RYSA); Girls Entrepreneurship Skills Training (GEST); and Women Entrepreneurship Skills Acquisition Programme (WESAP).”

These programmes he said are trainee-centred and service-oriented. The sectors and activities covered include agriculture, agricultural value chain services, vocational skills-based microenterprises and cottage enterprises.

Furthermore, the training and mentoring processes aim beyond raising entrepreneurs to produce leaders and managers that have high levels of personal responsibility and effectiveness. I am pleased to let you know that after six years of faithful implementation of these programmes, we have trained and given business support packages to several thousands of youths.

Following the success of these interventions and other efforts in promoting technical education, Delta State was ranked the Best State in Human Capital Development in the 2017 States Peer Review by the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria.

Also in 2020, Delta was adjudged to be the Second Least Poor State, coming only after Lagos, Nigeria’s business hub, according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

From the above observations, it is obvious that he (Okowa) in my view is a Presidential material the nation needs to exit the unemployment crisis and economic retardation. However, in order not to be accused of indulging in hasty conclusions, this piece will go beyond the Governor’s wealth creation and employment generation prowess, to x-ray his efforts in other sectors.

To Be Continued.

Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374.

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The Effects of Home Loans on the Cost of Living Post-COVID

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Home Loans on the Cost of Living

COVID-19 has been a disaster for many people globally, one reason being the effect of the pandemic on the cost of living.

As the cost of living is rising while wages remain stagnant, it’s becoming apparent that many people are struggling to pay off their existing commitments. As a result of such obligations, more and more people seek refinancing options to lower their mortgage rates and reduce monthly expenses.

This post will cover how COVID-19 has affected home loan rates and the part it plays in the rising cost of living.

How Has COVID-19 Stressed Out The World Economies?

While it’s inevitable that no country can escape the effects of a global pandemic, some countries have weathered the storm better than others. For example, as you can see in the image above by Compare The Market Refinance Quotes, the US, Australia, and Denmark seem to be the least financially stressed of world economies, with manageable home loan rates being a significant factor. This has allowed these countries to cope with the negative effects that COVID-19 has had on the cost of living.

Other countries may be able to copy the decisions made by these governments to help restore their economies. Nevertheless, many individuals of these countries and others still find it challenging to pay their bank loans and mortgages.

How Are Home Loans Affecting The Cost Of Living Post-COVID-19?

In March 2020, many countries worldwide implemented a debt moratorium to alleviate household debt burdens due to the coronavirus pandemic. These moratoriums have already expired in many places, which raises some tough questions regarding what additional policies should be adopted to address the pandemic’s lingering effects.

With people facing the challenge of prioritizing their payments, especially when considering the rapid increase in inflation that many countries are experiencing, many have turned to various financial tools such as refinancing to get them through these difficult times.

What Is Loan Refinancing?

Loan refinancing is when you take out a new loan to replace the old one. There are many reasons why you might want to refinance your loans; you may not be happy with how much money you are spending each month on your monthly payments, or maybe you have another loan with a higher interest rate that will save you money in the long run. In these uncertain times, refinancing is becoming more popular.

However, it’s important to note that refinancing only works if you have good credit and still owe some of the original balance of your original loan. Not all types of loans can be refinanced, but here are five loan types can:

  • Student loans
  • Credit card balances
  • Auto loans
  • Mortgage
  • Various bank loans

In conclusion, the effects of home loans on the cost of living are pretty significant for many people, not just in the US but also worldwide. This has caused many to use refinancing as the cost of inflation rises.

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