The importance of “cyber-hygiene”

The importance of “cyber-hygiene”

By Jacob Caine

The private data of millions of Australians has become the plaything of hackers in recent months. Massive cyber-attacks against large organisations such as Optus and Medibank have demonstrated to individuals and corporations alike just how inadequate current cybersecurity infrastructure and practices are. 

Attention to “cyber-hygiene”, essentially how safely and securely we operate in an “online” context, has been woefully inadequate in practice throughout Australia and the world generally. Hackers gaining access to the networks and systems of technology and insurance companies, perhaps, offers a moment for pause to ask ourselves: how vulnerable are we? 

When I was younger, my grandmother often lamented what she saw as the laziness and indecision cultivated in the younger generations, namely me, by the invention of the television remote. “What’s wrong with just making up your mind, taking three steps, and turning the knob?” she would squawk at me. “You just lie there on the couch like a log, click, click, clicking ... choose something for Chrissakes. It’s all the same ol’ crap anyways.”

My recollection of Grandma might be a little hazy because my father assures me she was actually born in London, was very posh, and a devout Catholic who never ever took the Lord’s name in vain. But I prefer to remember ol’ Gram Gram as more of a hard-nosed, hard-living trailer park-dwelling curmudgeon. 

Unfortunately, she’s no longer with us, but I have a feeling my grandmother, the real or imagined version, would have completely lost her mind at the prospect of a “smart” fridge or a “smart” toaster.

The Internet of Things (IoT), a network of billions and billions of internet-connected devices (like fridges, toasters, and vacuums), has been embraced as the next frontier in humankind’s technological evolution. 


It is estimated that the IoT will comprise 14.4 billion connected devices by the end of 2022. Like the television remote, these “smart” devices are supposed to make our lives easier and more streamlined, allowing us to shift our focus away from waiting for the toaster to pop to engaging in some quality time with friends and family. 


I’ll leave it to others to determine how effective these promised efficiencies have proven so far at enhancing the bonds between families and friendship groups but will draw your attention to the massively increased vulnerability the proliferation of internet-connected devices poses to the entire community, from business to government to individuals. 

While operating systems, antivirus software, and companies provide some level of protection embedded in their systems, the risk of malign digital infiltration has never been greater. 

Even if you are one of the few who practice first-rate cyber hygiene across your desktop and mobile devices, as the number of “smart devices” in your orbit increases, so too does your risk of being hacked.  

The problem stems from the laughably deficient security protocols installed on these devices. The security technology installed in your vacuum or networked lighting was added as an afterthought, if it was added at all. The qualitative and legislative requirements that enforce higher security standards for software and computers don’t apply to your internet-connected thongs (this is a real thing). 


But these devices are connected to the same network that your desktop computer is connected to, the same network that your phones join when you walk through the front door, and that your tablet uses to stream video. All of which means any halfway decent hacker can exploit the weakness of your connected TV’s security to access the information contained on other devices connected to that network.


Given the rapidly increasing “attack-surface” these 14 billion smart devices provide the hackers of the world, it begs the question: for all their claimed efficiencies, are “smart” things really just a dumb idea? •

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