According to a public service announcement released by the FBI this week your child's internet Connected toys may be a major threat to not only their privacy but their safety!
In the PSA the FBI warns that "toys with microphones could record and collect conversations within earshot of the device. Information such as the child's name, school, likes and dislikes, and activities may be disclosed through normal conversation with the toy or in the surrounding environment." In addition to personal information that may be obtained the FBI warns that more specific details, such as GPS locations, visual identifiers and information used by other family member when creating user accounts could readily be obtained!
The collection of a child’s personal information combined with a toy’s ability to connect to the Internet or other devices raises concerns for privacy and physical safety. Personal information (e.g., name, date of birth, pictures, address) is typically provided when creating user accounts. In addition, companies collect large amounts of additional data, such as voice messages, conversation recordings, past and real-time physical locations, Internet use history, and Internet addresses/IPs. The exposure of such information could create opportunities for child identity fraud. Additionally, the potential misuse of sensitive data such as GPS location information, visual identifiers from pictures or videos, and known interests to garner trust from a child could present exploitation risks.
As with all internet connected devices, (including your smart phone, smart TV, home assistant ect) data collected from interactions with your devices is typically collected, sent and stored by the manufacturer or developer via server or cloud service. In some cases, it is also collected by third-party companies who manage the voice recognition software used in the toys or connected devices. Voice recordings, toy Web application (parent app) passwords, home addresses, Wi-Fi information, or sensitive personal data could be exposed if the security of the data is not sufficiently protected with the proper use of digital certificates and encryption when it is being transmitted or stored.
Smart toys generally connect to the Internet either:
- Directly, through Wi-Fi to an Internet-connected wireless access point; or
- Indirectly, via Bluetooth to an Android or iOS device that is connected to the Internet.
The FBI warns that cyber security measures used in the toy, the toy’s partner applications, and the Wi-Fi network on which the toy connects directly impacts the overall user security. Communications connections where data is encrypted between the toy, Wi-Fi access points, and Internet servers that store data or interact with the toy are crucial to mitigate the risk of hackers exploiting the toy or possibly eavesdropping on conversations/audio messages. Bluetooth-connected toys that do not have authentication requirements (such as PINs or passwords) when pairing with the mobile devices could pose a risk for unauthorized access to the toy and allow communications with a child user. It could also be possible for unauthorized users to remotely gain access to the toy if the security measures used for these connections are insufficient or the device is compromised.
Parents are being urged to examine user agreements and privacy policies (we know too well that some of us click through blindly and agree to those terms) and investigate whether data is shared with third parties and how it's handled in the cloud. Toys should also only be connected to the internet over secure Wi-Fi networks and not connected blindly to open networks, or in some cases trusted networks with highly clone-able names (ie Xfinitywifi). Additionally, the FBI suggests that you report cases whereas you migght suspect your child’s toy may have been compromised by filing a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, at www.IC3.gov.