Connected toys could post security risk at home

Toys aren’t just cuddly soft bears and action figures anymore, as toys become net-connected to do more. Are they safe?

With the toy buying season now constant (though pushed on by a holiday season that feels closer than it ever did), parents are now faced with a looming question: is it okay to get my kids a “connected toy” in the age where connectivity can sometimes be cautioned?

We know that when we go online on tablets and phones, information can be collected, and that information may be shared with third parties. That happens on our computers and web browsers, as well, and it could be happening on a specific breed of toys, too.

For instance some devices will share information such as gender, birthdate, and even physical location, with Wikipedia pointing out the several times toys have led to data breaches already. While it’s more then likely that this information will be used for marketing purposes, the point is that this information may not be collected or stored securely, and that’s information you may not not want getting out.

But it’s a risk that parents could end up facing, and one Australian parents may well be concerned about, with the latest research from Symantec revealing the extent of those concerns.

According to the makers of the Norton security products, 50 percent of Australian parents don’t plan to buy their children a device that connects to the internet for the holiday season, while the 50 percent that do include options like a tablet, a phone, and a video game system.

These aren’t obviously toys, but devices like robots with voice recording capabilities or cameras built in are seen by 63 percent of parents as a security risk to their home, with 3 out of 4 parents saying they would dispose or return a present if they thought it posed a cyber security risk.

“Parents should vet and investigate the online toy experience to ensure their child’s privacy and identity isn’t at risk,” said Mark Gorrie, Cyber Security Expert for Norton.

“While Wi-Fi or app connected toys are obvious cyber risks, parents need to be aware of the ‘offline’ toys which drive kids online to ‘continue or extend’ the toys’ experiences,” he said. “This might include watching online video content, completing online challenges, or joining online conversations exposing kids to risks such as click bait advertising, open chat rooms, or content searches that can lead into dangerous territories without parent’s realising.”

Based on this, Norton suggests parents research the any connected toy you might be purchasing to find out what it does, and if there’s a privacy concern. In the event that you buy one for a child, Gorrie suggests turning off connected toys when they’re not in use.

“Turn off recording capabilities and microphone functions when a toy is put back on the shelf. Cover devices with cameras while they are not in use to ensure hackers can’t peak into your home should the toy be compromised,” he said.

Having a security solution is also recommended, as it provides an element of protection on devices that may be communicating this data. Alternatively, having a form of security as a network appliance is a possibility, as it can help ensure the network is protected on the whole.

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