This Holiday Season, Smart Toys Come With FBI Warnings

December 18, 2017

10:50 am

So you’ve finished all your shopping — with the aid of our excellent suite of holiday gift guides, of course — and you’re finally settling down for a long winter’s nap. But first, the FBI would like a word.

Their public service announcement was released in July, far ahead of the holiday season, but it is most applicable in the upcoming weeks, as smart toys will inevitably wind up under trees across the nation. Toy companies have been hacked or found leaking information in the past, and the FBI was clear in its warning: U.S. shoppers should “consider cyber security prior to introducing smart, interactive, internet-connected toys into their homes or trusted environments.”

Consumers should be aware of the potential threats infiltrating their homes in the form of adorable fluffy internet-connected stuffed animals. Which is why TechCo talked to an expert about the issue.

Eric Marcus is CEO of Marcus Networking Inc., a locally-owned business based in Tempe that represents a variety of industries including medical and legal, manufacturing and retail, produce and finance, schools and nonprofits. Here’s our Q and A, in which Marcus discusses just why smart toys are greater security risks than phones or laptops, why research is essential, and who to inform if you suspect your toy is compromised.

What are the security concerns most smart toys leave open?

“The main security concern is that most smart toys have sensors, microphones, cameras and GPS options that could allow someone to track or hack your child’s smart toy. This means that someone could see or collect information about your child playing with you and know what the layout and surrounding environment of your home looks like.”

How can consumers protect themselves?

“It would be wise for consumers to research the toy and company before purchasing any type of smart toys. Make sure the toy is coming from a trusted brand and has good reviews. You should also avoid connecting the toy to untrusted Wi-Fi networks and turn it off when you aren’t using it.”

Any tips on how to disconnect Wi-Fi or GPS tracking on smart toys?

“If the toy comes automatically connected to Wi-Fi or GPS tracking it can be tricky turn it off, since it doesn’t have the same capabilities as a phone or laptop. If you aren’t convinced the toy’s Wi-Fi can be turned off, don’t buy it.”

Say a toy may be compromised. How should the owner respond?

“If you suspect a toy has been compromised, you can file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complain Center.”

Gartner data puts the number of internet-connected devices at as many as 8.4 billion in 2017. Don’t let smart toys slip off your list of tech to keep a watchful eye on.

Read more about the Internet of Things on TechCo

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Adam is a writer with an interest in a variety of mediums, from podcasts to comic books to video essays to novels to blogging — too many, basically. He's based out of Seattle, and remains a staunch defender of his state's slogan: "sayWA." In his spare time, he recommends articles about science fiction on Twitter, @AdamRRowe

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