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You might not realize it, but wearable technology first arrived on our shelves as long ago as the mid-1970s when Casio started to produce their historic “calculator watches“. Thankfully, the technology has moved on significantly, with the latest smartwatches and smart eyewear now packing as much computing power as some low-spec laptops.
The current generation of smartphone-esque smartwatches first started to go on sale in 2013, and by the end of 2014, 6.8 million devices had been sold. Whether you think those figures represent success or failure is somewhat immaterial; there are now at least 6.8 million new attack points for thieves and criminals.
Here we take a look at how to stop your new wearables becoming a security threat…
Keep Your Device Updated
In the same way that you should always install updates for your Windows or Mac machine when they become available, you should also ensure that your wearable is running the latest version of the operating system (OS).
Of course, there is an argument that says you should wait for a couple of weeks after a new laptop or smartphone OS is released so that any initial bugs can be ironed out. However, that doesn’t apply to wearables (yet) – because of the rapidly evolving nature of the technology it’s better to stay as up-to-date as possible.
You also need to ensure that all your apps are up-to-date. While developers have now had almost a decade to familiarize themselves with the nature of creating apps for smartphones, several of them are making their first forays into the smartwatch world. This lack of expertise inherently means accidents will happen and security vulnerabilities will slip through the net.
The biggest developers will naturally move to close these flaws as soon as they are discovered. Therefore, from an end-user perspective, you need to check that all app updates are installing automatically.
Don’t Sync Your Wearable with Your Smartphone
One of the major attractions of smartwatches is their ability to sync with your smartphone. The idea is to make the devices offer their users a seamless experience, regardless of which gadget they are interacting with.
In practice, it’s a security nightmare.
The problems arise from the way the two devices “talk” to each other. At the moment they mostly rely on a six-digit PIN code. Six digit codes have roughly one million keys, meaning the credentials can be easily brute-forced by attackers. If they are successful, all the devices’ communications will be displayed in plain text.
In 2014, Researchers from the Romania-based security firm Bitdefender carried out a proof-of-concept attack. They used a Samsung Gear Live smartwatch that was paired with a Google Nexus 4 – it was hacked in minutes.
Therefore, until the devices become more robust, you are safer if you use the products as standalone gadgets rather than as one giant ecosystem.
Disable Wireless Health Products
Wearable technology has applications and benefits beyond the consumer facing products like smartwatches and fitness bands.
It has also played a major role in the healthcare industry. There are now a wide variety of products that are “worn” inside the body and that relay real-time information about your condition to a doctor. In fact, devices such as insulin pumps, glucose monitors, and pacemakers all now have wireless capabilities.
These wireless capabilities bring dangers to the user by opening the devices up to potential hacking.
For example, in 2012, security vendor IOActive announced to the Breakpoint Security Conference in Melbourne that there were flaws in the programming of the wireless transmitters in pacemakers. These flaws meant the devices could be used to deliver an 830-volt electric shock to the wearer. The news prompted former US vice president Dick Cheney to disable the wireless capability of his own heart pump.
Do you need wireless capability in health devices? If it’s not absolutely essential, disable it.
It would be remiss to write an article about wearable device security without mentioning the more traditional “physical” threat. Although the devices may open up a whole new arena for hackers and cyber-criminals, the nature of wearable technology you need to keep your wits about you when you’re on the street as well.
Gadgets such as Google Glass can be easily stolen from your face while you’re wearing them, while watch-snatchers are almost as old as watches themselves.
The upshot is that all the usual recommendations about safety in public apply – don’t display your gadgets prominently or draw attention to them, be wary of strangers who approach you for no reason, and be extra careful in tourist areas, at public events, and in other densely-packed locations.
Can You Ever Be 100 Percent Safe?
Does the wearable market automatically create weaknesses that can be exploited? Undoubtedly so – especially if you’re a privacy nut.
For instance; federal officials have recently reprimanded the makers of fitness bands like Fitbit, Jawbone UP, and Nike+ after it emerged they sold user data for use in clinical research studies. There are also concerns about their geo-location monitoring – if a hacker gets access to it they can quickly build up a detailed picture of your daily routine.
Additionally, smart clothing typically uses easily-interceptable Bluetooth technology to transmit the biometric and physiological data it collects, while several smart eyewear gadgets have always-on cameras; they can record private information such as PIN numbers and passwords, as well as social information such as what you’re doing and who you’re with.
The problem is that by not using these features, you are removing a considerable portion of device’s “smart” capabilities. There’s no clear answer to the problem – for now you’ll need to compromise and find your own balance between usefulness and intrusion.
How Do You Stay Safe?
Are you on-board with the wearable tech revolution? What devices do you use? How do you keep yourself safe?
Perhaps you’re on the other side of the fence. Are the privacy and security concerns too great for you at the moment? What would need to change to make you change your mind?
Leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below and see if other MakeUseOf readers agree with your opinions!
Now, WhatsApp is primarily a phone-based instant messaging service. It’s great for Android, it’s great for iPhone. Yes, you can use it without a phone and I’ll show you how, but the bottom line is that it’s best to use it on your phone. The messages you get on your phone can then be relayed to your Mac. Cool?
With that in mind, go get the app for your phone first and set it up:
Once you download and install ChitChat, it works exactly like how WhatsApp Web does in any browser, so the setup is the same as the steps above. The difference? You can ditch Chrome and still use this. It even supports notifications for new messages! The app can also be set to sign in automatically when you start.
ChitChat has a few bugs that show up from time to time. In the screenshot above, you can see how the first contact has the close/minimize buttons overlaying it—that’s not how it always looks, it’s a bug that goes away when you resize the window. These are small bugs and nothing that is a deal-breaker.
Use PushBullet for Notifications and Quick Replies
We’ve previously mentioned how Pushbullet connects your Android and computer, and an update earlier this year made it even better. Now, you can reply to incoming WhatsApp messages on your phone through a notification on your screen.
Not everyone will want WhatsApp Web and this is a less intrusive solution to use WhatsApp from your computer once in a while without reaching for your phone. Here’s what you need:
Sign in with the same account on both devices and follow the in-app instructions to connect them.
On Android, go to Pushbullet > Menu > Mirroring > Show my notifications on my PC and enable it.
On Mac, go to Pushbullet > Preferences > Settings > Enable Pushbullet Notifications and check the box.
This will enable notifications for all chat and text apps. If you want only WhatsApp and nothing else, then on your Android, go to Pushbullet > Menu > Mirroring > Only for some apps and select only WhatsApp in the list.
Now, the next time you get a message on WhatsApp, it will show up like this notification on your Mac, which you can quickly reply to or dismiss:
Note: This method does not work with WhatsApp and Pushbullet on iPhones, it only works with Android smartphones.
The No-Phone WhatsApp Setup: BlueStacks
In case you don’t want WhatsApp installed on your phone but still want to use it occasionally from your Mac, there’s still a way. All you need is an app called BlueStacks.
Simply put, BlueStacks lets you run Android apps on Mac OS X. It’s an emulator. But to set up WhatsApp, you will still need access to a phone—but not necessarily a smartphone. You just need any mobile phone where you can receive a good old phone call.
Run BlueStacks and sign in with your Google account.
Search for WhatsApp in BlueStack and install it.
Go through the setup process till you reach the point where WhatsApp asks for your number. Give the number of the phone where you can receive a regular phone call.
WhatsApp will try to verify the number with an SMS but be unsuccessful. This takes about four minutes, so you’ll have to wait. Once it is unsuccessful, WhatsApp will prompt to call you with a verification code. Accept this toll-free call.
Answer the call when your phone rings, and you will hear a verification code. Key it into the Verification Code Box in WhatsApp on BlueStacks.
Follow the steps to finish installation and you’re ready to use WhatsApp on your Mac.
With this method, you cannot use WhatsApp on your phone and Mac at the same time. WhatsApp will only be active on your computer, not your smartphone. If you use the same number to install WhatsApp elsewhere, whether on your phone or another computer, it will no longer work on this setup.