“Oh … my … God…”
Those were all the words my wife could muster as she stared at the picture on our brand-new Samsung 65” LED Smart 4K UHD TV. This was one of those smart TVs with a feature that acts as a hub and controls your connected devices.
But it wasn’t the vivid colors, thcybee sharp contrasts or the smooth motion that caught her eye.
In today’s connected world, where we can turn on our porch lights from the grocery store, warm up our cars while still in bed and remotely watch Fido tear up the couch from our living room cameras…
Her choice of words expressed everyone’s worst nightmare.
Today’s Connected World
Right in front of us, in 65 inches of state-of-the-art glory, was the control panel to someone else’s connected home.
The security cameras in their backyard and porch showed that no one was home. The controls to every lock (including the garage door opener) displayed that the house was locked up, and even that the home alarm was set to “on.”
As I clicked through to figure out if this was just a preloaded demo account, there was also an email address and a link to a PayPal account.
Immediately, I phoned the local Best Buy store that sold me the TV, explaining (and complaining) that its “brand-new” TV had been previously owned.
More importantly, this item was connected to someone else’s home. What do I do? Should I call the police?
The Best Buy manager assured me (which later turned out to be either a bold-faced fib or a complete misunderstanding) that it may have been Samsung’s fault because the TV was brand-new, in an unopened box. I assured him that my eyes are working fine and I can see right into someone else’s house.
Since there was an email address associated with the connected home, I thought the previous owner might want to know that his smart hub had wound up in my living room.
A few hours later, the previous owner responded saying that he had purchased the TV at the same Best Buy store, but he later returned it because it had “some technical issues.”
He also thanked me, even offering that “it’s really refreshing to know that there are still people out there looking out for each other.”
After a short phone call to Best Buy’s corporate offices to explain the situation, the local store quickly sent a couple store managers to pick up the TV set and replace it with a new one.
In case you’re wondering, they got it right this time.
Searching for Safety, Adding Vulnerability
This left me wondering: In our connected world, where we are increasingly becoming more attached to our homes in the interest of security, are we unknowingly opening ourselves up to more dangerous cyberattacks?
It’s like building an emergency exit in case of fire, but then that emergency exit can serve as a door for unwanted trespassers.
“Smart” things are increasingly becoming more connected. We all suspect our phones are listening to us. Have you ever had a completely random conversation and then opened your phone to see an ad for the topic of that conversation?
Remember, any personal data that you store online, whether it be your credit card info or a few hours of personal video, is kept in a centralized cloud.
Our personal data is a gold mine, containing a windfall of profits for companies that store, manage and sell it to advertisers. And we are trusting companies with the keys to our most private information.
Companies are always looking for ways to monetize that data.
We learned this year that Facebook may have given the private information of 87 million users to political research firm Cambridge Analytica, which then worked with Russian intelligence services to conduct a misinformation campaign ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Then there was last year’s massive breach at credit bureau Equifax, where 145.5 million customers had their Social Security numbers, driver’s license details and home addresses compromised.
The Facebook and Equifax debacles suggest that the centralized model is not a viable option because the social costs of trusting these entities outweigh the benefits.
Blockchain Will Protect Your Data
Blockchain technology promises a better, more decentralized internet. One in which no centralized entity maintains your personal data.
In blockchain-based systems, a distributed network of computers is tasked with storing and maintaining data. To incentivize these tasks, this network is rewarded with a monetary unit known as a cryptocurrency.
Bitcoin is the first cryptocurrency that powers a decentralized network. It’s a form of money that’s not tied to a bank or a government. The only one with access to your bitcoin is the one who holds your private keys.
This new platform removes the need for a centralized authority to control the data, and that means there is no centralized point of control. This renders a widescale hack on everyone’s data nearly impossible.
Blockchain may usher in a new digital world where users control their own data. This would provide all the benefits of using modern technology without blindly trusting the tech oligopoly with your decisions, health data and whereabouts.
One interesting project in development, Blockstack, bills itself as a “new internet for decentralized apps.” This startup combines a decentralized identity system, a domain name registry and a storage network to recreate a functional internet along with a decentralized framework.
The company raised $52.8 million last year to build out a new, decentralized internet infrastructure.
Blockstack issued 440 million tokens, which can be redeemed for internet protocol operations such as registering domain names or creating new digital identities.
We are already starting to see new apps emerge using Blockstack’s platform. Last week, a decentralized messaging app called Stealthy launched its app on iOS and Android.
This will allow users to send encrypted messages that can only be accessed with the sender’s private key. The experience resembles any other messaging app, like iMessage or WhatsApp, only with an added layer of security.
The best part of this new, decentralized world is that you won’t have to rely on Facebook, Amazon or Equifax to manage your private data. However, you’ll still have to be mindful when returning hardware to Best Buy.
Editor, Crypto Profit Trader