Overwhelming support for new IOT security legislation plans in UK

Opinion by Lee Langford

Many UK consumers say retailers should be banned from selling IoT devices without appropriate labels

Brand new research carried out by digital research consultancy Harris Interactive has highlighted the overwhelming public support in the UK for the proposed government legislation that will make internet-connected systems and gadgets more secure.

Security vulnerabilities that can be targeted by hackers have been identified in a range of devices from expensive IoT home security systems to smaller items such as smart kettles and even children’s toys.

The new laws will tighten access to new devices by ensuring steps such as unique passwords and a clear labelling system, so that consumers know how secure an IoT product they are planning to purchase will be.

Announced on 1 May by digital minister Margot James, following a voluntary code of practice for IoT manufacturers published in 2018, industry experts have largely welcomed the legislation as a step in the right direction.

A representative sample of 1,052 UK consumers were polled by Harris Interactive. The initial reactions were extremely favourable, highlighting widely-held concerns as IoT devices become increasingly prevalent in the household.

Three-quarters agreed with expert views that the new legislation is a good starting point. More interestingly, they said the new labelling scheme will help them make more informed decisions when they shop for smart devices in future.

The majority (65%) of them went a step further than the proposed legislation, which will initially be a voluntary scheme, by agreeing that retailers should be banned from selling devices without appropriate labels.

For me, the study findings are hardly surprising.

These results confirm that consumers are increasingly concerned that smart devices they have been encouraged to have in their homes are not safe, making them a target for cyber-attacks. 62% of those we polled are worried that their personal data might be stolen or that criminals can spy on them remotely for example. And this concern cuts across all segments of the population with younger consumers just as worried as generations that were raised before IoT was even a remote possibility.

While worrying about more established and personal devices like smartphones and smart cars, consumers appear particularly concerned that devices ostensibly designed to make their home and, more importantly, their family safer – internet-enabled home security systems, smoke alarms, locks and even baby monitors – are resulting in the opposite outcome. Unsurprisingly, children’s toys are another area of particular concern.

The research also looked at current ownership levels of smart devices. Whilst the majority of people (59%) have a smartphone, 44% have a smart TV in their home and 14% own a smart watch, ownership of other items is still confined to a small minority e.g. only 5% have an IOT home security system, 3% have a smart fridge and 3% have smart locks.

It’s clear that consumer perceptions are being driven primarily by their direct experiences of phone hacking and by press coverage rather than any other real-life experience. Decisive Government action right now could help alleviate concerns, help consumers make more informed purchases and help to position the UK as a global leader in online safety, which is a stated aim of the legislation.

Another key, and perhaps worrying, finding from the research is that many consumers are confused and even ill-informed about current levels of safety in IoT devices. A third believe that smart gadgets have the same level of cyber-security as their PC and laptop.

And there is also a clear sense of Big Brother unease, with many feeling uncomfortable that devices nowadays have built-in cameras and microphones. Almost three-quarters (72%) of those polled are unhappy that devices are collecting personal data about the way consumers use them.

There is plenty in this research for the government and IoT device manufacturers and professionals to reflect on. The proposed legislation is clearly a step in the right direction and should be a key focus for manufacturers moving forward.

However, it is also clear that current plans may not go far enough according to consumers and some market experts, and this may ultimately transcend the current plans for the scheme to be voluntary.

Contributed by Lee Langford, research director for TMTE

*Results of a nationally representative online survey of 1,052 UK respondents aged 18 and above conducted between May 3-6 2019 by Harris Interactive.

***Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of SC Media UK or Haymarket Media.

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