Many of us do what we can to protect our computers from cybercrime, but we often don’t realize that our smartphones and smartwatches are also at risk. While smartwatches are more of an accessory to our main devices, they can still be exploited by malicious actors. So, how easy is it to hack a smartwatch, and what can you do to protect yourself?
Why Hack a Smartwatch?
Smartwatches can store a lot of different kinds of data, some of it highly sensitive. Phone numbers, email addresses, login credentials, and payment information can all be stored on a smartwatch, which a hacker could do a lot with if successfully stolen.
There may not be as much data stored on a smartwatch as there would be on a computer or smartphone, but this doesn’t mean there isn’t anything worth pursuing for malicious actors. Even a single phone number or set of login credentials can give a hacker a lot to work with, so don’t assume that just because your smartwatch is an accessory doesn’t mean it isn’t sought after by attackers.
Smartwatches are almost always connected to a smartphone, and this direct link also makes them targets for hackers. Because a cybercriminal can intercept the information being exchanged between a smartphone and smartwatch, it’s easy to understand why a smartwatch could be a target.
How Are Smartwatches Hacked?
Smartwatches can be considered little computers in and of themselves. With your smartwatch, you can connect to the internet, use Bluetooth and NFC, make calls, and send texts. So, there are evidently many wireless communication vectors supported by most smartwatches.
Because of this, smartwatches are exposed to remote attacks. There are so many forms of remote attacks that listing them all would take a long time, but there are a few key attacks that smartwatches are particularly exposed to.
Phishing is a type of cybercrime that exploits various kinds of communication channels, including email, SMS, and social media DMs. Phishing attacks involve the impersonation of an official individual or organization in order to spread malware or steal data. If you receive a phishing email and open it on your smartwatch, you could be at risk of exploitation.
Say, for example, you open a phishing email attachment on your smartwatch and unknowingly deploy malware onto your device. Once this malware is installed and active, it could possibly log your activity, steal your data, and even track your location. Even ransomware, a highly dangerous form of malware, has been known to infect smartwatches, and phishing emails could be used to deploy such harmful programs.
Additionally, smartwatches’ use of Bluetooth poses a risk. Bluetooth is a short-range wireless connection technology that many use to pair to other devices, like wireless headphones and speakers. In the case of smartwatches, Bluetooth can be used to connect to your smartphone, so that you can make and receive calls, use apps, and access more features in general.
However, when Bluetooth is used to connect your smartphone and smartwatch, a channel opens for exploitation. A cybercriminal could compromise your connection, and then eavesdrop on the data being sent between both devices.
Cybercriminals can also use factory default passwords to access smartwatches. A default password is given to Internet of Things (IoT) devices during manufacture. If a cybercriminal is able to find your factory default password, they could access your smartwatch via its backend. While you can change this password, it is typically quite difficult to do, and many do not bother, which leaves open a useful exploit channel for hackers.
How to Keep Your Smartwatch Safe from Hackers
If you’re concerned about your smartwatch posing a security risk, there are things you can do to keep it safe from hackers, starting with the connections you make.
As previously discussed, there are various communication channels that a smartwatch can use, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC. All of these can potentially be exploited by attackers, so it’s wise to only keep active the connections you need. For example, if you don’t need your NFC on a given day, disable it until it is required again.
Additionally, try not to connect your smartwatch to too many devices at once, as this can also expose you to malicious attacks. If a cybercriminal successfully hacks your smartphone, for instance, they may then be able to gain access to your smartwatch.
Connecting your smartwatch to a public Wi-Fi network can also make you an easy target for hackers. This is a general rule for all devices, including laptops, tablets, and smartphones. If you’re not using a protective protocol, such as a Virtual Private Network (VPN), connecting to a public Wi-Fi network puts you at risk of having your data stolen or activity tracked by cybercriminals.
Updating your smartwatch’s software, particularly its operating system, can play a crucial role in elevating security, too. Software updates provide many benefits, one of which being the removal of bugs and vulnerabilities that can pose security risks. While it can be a little inconvenient to wait for a software update to finish, they are nonetheless important, so try to run them as frequently as possible.
You should also physically protect your smartwatch from attacks. Malware can be installed directly onto a smartwatch if someone gets access to it, so it’s important to equip your smartwatch with a strong password so that it can’t be gotten into easily.
Lastly, it’s important to opt for legitimate and trusted smartwatch manufacturers so that you know you’re not being left without any security measures on your device. Cheaper smartphone brands can sometimes skimp out on certain features, including security protocols, to offer their devices at a low price point. While this isn’t always the case, it’s usually safer to go with the well-reviewed and well-established name.
Smartwatches’ Wireless Capabilities Make Them a Valuable Target
The many ways in which smartphones can connect to other devices, access online platforms, and communicate over long and short distances undoubtedly solidifies them as a viable option for cybercriminals. If you own a smartwatch and are concerned about cyberattacks, use the tips above to better protect your device and the data stored on it.
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