Interconnected devices are sometimes called ‘smart products’ or the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT). These products are becoming increasingly popular in consumers’ homes and lives. While there are many benefits, in some cases they can cause harm to consumers if they have a safety issue.
Interconnected devices are physical objects that can send and receive information or data to and from the internet. Some interconnected devices can also send information or commands to other products.
Common interconnected devices include:
- smart phones, computers, laptops and tablets
- smart wearables, smart watches, fitness trackers and wireless headphones
- baby monitors, child trackers and geolocators for older consumers
- interconnected toys and dolls, drones and robotic planes, and gaming consoles
- smart home appliances, smart televisions, smart fridges, smart washing machines and robotic vacuum cleaners
- home security systems, smart door locks, smart smoke detectors and smart thermostats
- connected home assistant devices.
How interconnected devices work
Interconnected devices come with sensors and components that capture information from their surroundings. These products can then send the information they collect to a ‘cloud’ or server to be processed. This gives consumers the ability to remotely control products and to measure usage data and other information.
Regular products can also become interconnected through the use of a ‘smart plug’, which connects the regular product to the internet or to other products.
Some devices use artificial intelligence, sometimes called machine learning or deep learning. These products can predict an outcome, perform a task or change a setting without human interaction. Some products can also process data and perform a task without sending information to the cloud or server.
For an interconnected device to function properly, the following components must work together:
- the hardware or physical product
- the software or firmware
- the connection device or gateway that facilitates connection to the internet, such as a modem and router
- the connection service to the internet or another product through Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 4G or 5G cellular or other forms
- the online server, sometimes referred to as the ‘cloud’, where data is processed and analysed remotely
- the artificial intelligence component, such as the machine learning or deep learning, where data is processed locally using algorithms
- the cyber security service that secures the network or the product from unauthorised access and malicious software.
Safety issues in interconnected devices can arise from a technological failure or malfunction that causes the device to stop working properly.
This could lead to house fires, burns, electric shock, lacerations, exposure to chemicals, or impact with a product or surface.
A safety issue can occur in an interconnected device when:
- a connection to the internet or another product is lost
- a software download corrupts the operating system
- a software update contains a coding error
- a software update designed to fix a safety issue is not received or installed
- the supplier no longer provides software support
- a cyber security breach leads to a third party installing malicious software or remotely controlling a device, or
- a consumer alters the product by installing third party software.
Examples of safety issues
- Example 1 : A smart phone has a software problem that causes the battery to overheat. The supplier issues an over the air software update to fix the cause of the problem. The consumer does not accept the software update and the battery overheats and catches fire.
- Example 2 : A smart thermostat controls the hot water service in a consumer’s home, allowing them to set their preferred temperature using a smart phone or tablet. The smart thermostat receives a software update containing a coding error that resets the preferred settings to the maximum temperature. The next time the consumer turns on the hot water they are scalded as they did not know the thermostat had been reset.
- Example 3: A smart oven has a remote control feature. Using an app, a consumer is able to send commands to the oven through Wi-Fi. The consumer does not realise they have turned on the oven. The consumer does not expect the surface to be hot and is burnt when they touch the oven.
- Consider securing your home network and be aware of cyber security risks that can cause your device to work in a different way.
- Consider what connection you need to run the device (such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth) and what could happen if the device loses connection.
- Consider what software or firmware is needed to support the device and whether you will need to update the software.
- Consider how you will get software updates and whether they will come from the supplier of the device or an authorised third party.
- Be cautious of using unauthorised third party software or making modifications to the device yourself, and only have modifications made by a professional.
- Consider what other components or services are provided with the device and how long the supplier will offer support for those components or services.
- Examine the hardware or physical product for any visible defects.
- Consider how the device will be affected by a failure or malfunction.
- Ensure the device is used in an environment where it will not cause harm to you or other people around you.
- Keep the device away from flammable materials, heat sources and water.
- Keep the device out of reach of children, or only use in line with age restrictions on the packaging or under adult supervision.
The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science Industry 4.0 Program provides initiatives for businesses to explore innovative technologies.
The Department of Home Affairs is currently consulting on a proposed voluntary Code of Practice: Securing the Internet of Things for Consumers to improve the cyber security of the Internet of Things for consumers.
The IoT Alliance Australia (IoTAA) User Security Awareness Guide provides tips and techniques for you to stay secure and safe when dealing with IoT systems.