Are “smart” toys a danger to children?

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Should parents be worried about connected toys for their children?

Over the Christmas period, families may have given or received “smart” toys that can be connected to various networks.

Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of devices that have the ability to connect and exchange data via network connectivity, sensors and software. This can include vehicles, home appliances and even children’s toys.

Connected children’s toys are intended to provide a more personalised experience for the child; however, there is a lack of authentication. This means that any device within range could connect, take control or send messages to the toy.

The scariest part is that they do not need a password, pin, or any other authentication to gain access to a toy within range. With a little technical knowledge, it would be easy for a cybercriminal to connect and share messages with a child without a verification process.

Mark James, ESET IT Security Specialist, discusses the potential dangers of connected toys and how a parent can know if their child's toy has been compromised.

“Internet connected toys are becoming a justifiable concern.

“The younger generation embrace technology at such an outstanding rate it makes sense to expand this to the toy industry.

“With more and more people owning tablets and smartphones the ability to add features or control these toys via an app is another tick in the box for consumer happiness, but at what cost?

“A toy that listens and interprets what you’re saying or even translates a language may seem quite safe, but from a tech point of view is probably beyond the actual toys pay grade.

“Instead it will need to constantly listen for commands, record those commands and then send them off to a server somewhere on the internet to be interpreted and then sent back to be actioned.

“Even if it keeps all that information itself and uses an intelligent operating system to define its actions, it’s quite likely to be susceptible to vulnerabilities or exploits.

“Being parents we would like to think our kids will talk to us about everything, but in a lot of cases it’s quite possible they won’t. They may be able to talk with their toy “thinking” it’s safe to do so as no one else is listening.

“This, however, may not be the case.

“Data collection both with and without consent is a real concern for adults, but should be at the very top of your list when you consider children’s toys that may require an internet connection.

“Try to establish how it connects and what it is or is not going to send and where!

“Always use a separate network for those toys and indeed any IoT connected device’s.

“Most modern internet routers will easily allow you to configure a second or guest network for this very purpose, that way if it is compromised your main private network is safe.”

Did you buy any IoT or Smart devices over Christmas? Let us know on Twitter @ESETUK.