The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), a division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), has issued a public service announcement about the improper security and privacy protections provided by manufacturers of Internet-connected smart toys, also known as IoT toys.
The IC3 issues such advisories when it spots trends of abuse in a specific area of technology.
It’s most recent warning comes after numerous incidents where insecure smart toys have leaked the personal details of small children, vulnerabilities allowed hackers to spy on little kids, or greedy companies have hidden clauses inside lengthy terms of conditions to allow them to collect large quantities of private information about small kids.
Here’s a small list of incidents with IoT toys from the last few years:
“Consumers should examine toy company user agreement disclosures and privacy practices, and should know where their family’s personal data is sent and stored, including if it’s sent to third-party services,” the FBI says. “Security safeguards for these toys can be overlooked in the rush to market them and to make them easy to use.”
The FBI advises parents to follow a simple set of rules before buying smart toys for their kids.
- Research for any known reported security issues online to include, but not limited to:
- Only connect and use toys in environments with trusted and secured Wi-Fi Internet access
- Research the toy’s Internet and device connection security measures
- Use authentication when pairing the device with Bluetooth (via PIN code or password)
- Use encryption when transmitting data from the toy to the Wi-Fi access point and to the server or cloud
- Research if your toys can receive firmware and/or software updates and security patches
- If they can, ensure your toys are running on the most updated versions and any available patches are implemented
- Research where user data is stored – with the company, third party services, or both – and whether any publicly available reporting exists on their reputation and posture for cyber security
- Carefully read disclosures and privacy policies (from company and any third parties) and consider the following:
- If the company is victimized by a cyber-attack and your data may have been exposed, will the company notify you?
- If vulnerabilities to the toy are discovered, will the company notify you?
- Where is your data being stored?
- Who has access to your data?
- If changes are made to the disclosure and privacy policies, will the company notify you?
- Is the company contact information openly available in case you have questions or concerns?
- Closely monitor children’s activity with the toys (such as conversations and voice recordings) through the toy’s partner parent application, if such features are available
- Ensure the toy is turned off, particularly those with microphones and cameras, when not in use
- Use strong and unique login passwords when creating user accounts (e.g., lower and upper case letters, numbers, and special characters)
- Provide only what is minimally required when inputting information for user accounts (e.g., some services offer additional features if birthdays or information on a child’s preferences are provided)