July 10, 2015

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Smartwatch Security: What Information Is Your Smartwatch Collecting

The hottest trend in consumer technology is the “wearable device,” such as fitness trackers, Internet-enabled glasses and even clothes with conductive thread that can power your mobile devices. Added into this mix is the smartwatch, which got a huge boost with the April 2015 launch of the Apple Watch.

In general, smartwatches allow you easy access to frequently used apps, like email, Twitter, weather and GPS. Most smartwatches maintain a fitness app as well, so you can turn the device into a pedometer or heartrate monitor. It’s a natural technology evolution to put computing power and apps right on your wrist. With the fun benefits, however, come serious drawbacks.

What Information is Collected?

Because these devices sync with your phone, the potential for data collection is huge. For example, consider your own frequently used apps and the information being aggregated from them: location, user contacts, personal communications and health data. With that kind of information about you, an identity thief could put together a profile that might be used for anything from opening new accounts to impersonating you for medical services.

Smartwatch security, like the devices themselves, is still at an early stage. While it is clear that these devices carry a lot of helpful information, what isn’t clear is how that information could be manipulated, both from the companies that manage your device and apps and from prospective thieves. If you’re considering jumping into the smartwatch scene, thinking about how to protect your personal information should be a top factor in your decision.

What Are the Risks?

As we’ve noted before, identity thieves are always on the lookout for ways to take your personal information so they can use it to open accounts in your name, make fraudulent charges and sell that data to other criminals. Because smartwatches can contain just as much data as your smartphone, they make prime targets for identity theft.

University of New Haven researchers recently revealed how they were able to obtain information from LG and Samsung smartwatches, including user contacts, health data and email messages. None of the data was encrypted, so although it took some expertise to extract information, researchers noted that the process wasn’t difficult.

If a criminal steals or hacks your smartwatch, it can have the same impact as losing your phone or computer. After all, whether you approve it or not, smartphones collect a wealth of personal data.

Watch the Watch

It’s likely that smartwatch security will become a more prominent issue as the technology goes mainstream. But don’t wait for manufacturers and developers when thinking about how to protect your personal information. Here are a few steps to take now:

  • Keep physical security in mind. The University of New Haven researchers advise smartwatch wearers to keep the device on when showering at the gym because it’s fast becoming a theft target.
  • Put strong password protection in place. Yes, it’s an extra step when using the watch. But you won’t regret it, especially if the watch is stolen and the thief can’t use the device.
  • Double check your downloads. Because you can check your email on the watch, it’s also possible to download malware onto the device. Use the same security savvy with the smartwatch as you do with your smartphone or computer.

If you’re thinking about getting a smartwatch or already have one, take a moment to make sure you know how to protect your personal information. Relying on Apple Watch security or other smartwatch security controls isn’t enough. Like other technology-related strategies, it pays to take extra steps to prevent your information from falling into the wrong hands — or in this case, onto the wrong wrist.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Kārlis Dambrāns.

Melanie Medina

Sr. Director of Digital Marketing at IdentityForce
Melanie is a native of Bolivia who has lived in Boston for over 10 years. She likes to make time to travel, jog, read, and play backgammon. Fueled by copious amounts of coffee, Melanie stays on top of her to-do list while also keeping abreast of identity theft issues. Serious data breaches are happening all the time in the U.S. and Melanie loves being part of a solution that brings peace of mind to families across the country.

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