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How to buy safe IoT gifts

Posted on November 23, 2020

Internet of Things (IoT) devices can make great gifts, but the IoT in general is notoriously insecure — and with IoT threats on the rise, that’s a real cause for concern. 

If you were planning on buying an IoT device for someone this year, use the following IoT shopping tips to increase your chances of finding them a safe, reliable gift.

  1. 1

    Don’t buy knock-offs

    To be frank, many IoT security breaches turn out to be the result of sloppy initial development. When buying an IoT device, stick to well-established manufacturers with a reputation for security and technical competence. Generic or off-brand versions of popular IoT items may cost less up front, but they’re also more likely to have serious security issues (in contrast to products built by companies with well-staffed and highly skilled engineering teams).

  2. 2

    Avoid the clearance bin

    Unsupported devices are always a security risk, which is why clearance sale IoT products can’t be recommended — no matter who the manufacturer is. Such devices may belong to discontinued product lines, or may even be made by a company that’s going out of business! If so, the device will stop receiving software or firmware patches in the near future, and once that happens, your gift will become a security liability to its owner.

  3. 3

    Say no to newbs

    The IoT device boom is a huge financial opportunity for businesses, and pretty much all of them are rushing to cash in on it. Unfortunately, secure IoT development isn’t easy — and companies can get it wrong if they don’t know what they’re doing. Best bet? Buy your tech from actual tech companies. It’s not an absolute guarantee of safety, but at least you can feel confident that an Apple or a Samsung will have extensive cybersecurity experience…and engineers who understand secure development. On the other hand, a company that’s just releasing its first IoT product, and specializes in high-end blenders? A little less certain!

  4. 4

    Check out the reviews

    Go online and see what current users of the IoT device are saying. First of all, look for potential problems with the device’s core functionality, since you obviously don’t want to buy a gift that’s hard or annoying to use! But in addition, keep an eye out for reports of buggy app interfaces, infrequent updates, or difficulty updating software or firmware, as these can all indicate an issue with software development and product support — a definite red flag in terms of security.

  5. 5

    Read the manual

    IoT gifts should be easy to set up for security and simple to maintain. You can find user guides and knowledge base articles for many IoT devices right on the manufacturers’ websites. Take a moment to look them over, making sure it’s relatively straightforward to take basic IoT security measures (things like changing default usernames and passwords, enabling automatic updates, and so on). Bonus points for devices that can be used without the “smart” functionality at all!

  6. 6

    Grown folks only

    In general, it’s probably best to avoid IoT gifts for children. IoT toys and smartwatches made for kids have been plagued by serious security and privacy issues, and exposing a child’s personal data to cybercriminals is definitely something to avoid. If you’re looking for safe, fun, educational gifts to help inspire a love of technology in children, consider an iPad-compatible learning kit like Osmo, or a Raspberry Pi kit.

  7. 7

    Save the slip

    Of course you hope that your friend or family member will love that shiny new IoT thing you’ve gotten them, but sometimes our gifts miss the mark (as the saying goes, it’s the thought that counts!). In the case of an unwanted IoT device, it’s especially important that the recipient be able to return or exchange it, since there are security and privacy issues at stake. Whenever you’re buying an IoT gift, try to stick to items that are returnable, and remember to save that gift slip just in case!

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