Digital toys and internet-connected devices for children (and young teens) are a rapidly growing part of a new computing revolution. So much so that annual smart-toy sales worldwide are expected to grow to $11.3bn by 2020, according to UK-based analyst firm Juniper Research.
There’s a general trend in children’s computing in which we’re moving away from the screen, to apps which are in the background and the physical toy with which children interact. We could say with some truth that the Internet of Things is also shaping up to be the Internet of Toys.
Today you can buy intelligent building blocks, smart racing cars and drones, robots that teach kids how to code, a smart rubber duck aimed at the very young and much more. There is even a trainable robot dog called Chip, a suit for laser tag games and a system that entices kids to run around the back garden.
And smart toy technology is rapidly becoming embedded in everyday toys such as dolls, stuffed animals, dinosaurs, teddy bears, bicycles, wrist bands and children’s tablets
However, there are some serious concerns about many smart connected toys:
- Germany banned an Internet-connected doll called My Friend Cayla and advised parents who already own one to destroy it. Cayla contains an internal microphone that criminals could use to listen in on children.
- The Norwegian Consumer Council added that strangers could also speak to children through Cayla.
- Cloud Pets, internet-connected stuffed animals allows parents and children to leave voice messages for each other. A security researcher discovered several million of these voice recordings in a poorly secured internet database.
Tellingly, in the latter case Mark Meyers, chief executive of Spiral Toys which manufactures Cloud Pets reportedly said of the poor password security, “We looked at it and thought it was a very minimal issue.”
Unfortunately, this attitude is commonplace among many smart device manufacturers and reveals a very lax attitude towards security.
There are some important things to understand about smart toys:
- They can contain speakers, microphones, recording devices, cameras, wireless transmitters and receivers as well as incorporating speech recognition and GPS technology. If not properly secured, these devices can be exploited by hackers.
- Many of these smart toys request name, address, date of birth and other personal information when you register.
- This and other data is stored and often sent to the manufacturer and/or partners.
- Smart toys often connect to the cloud and remain connected to the cloud even when the toy is turned off.
The poor cyber security in many smart toys is of such concern that even the FBI recently issued an alert.
In a press release it said: “The FBI encourages consumers to consider cyber security prior to introducing smart, interactive, internet-connected toys into their homes.”
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