Cyber criminals have easy access to NI homes: Derry-born expert

Robert OBrien, CEO of MetaCompliance.

Robert OBrien, CEO of MetaCompliance.

Cyber criminals are being given more access than ever before to Northern Ireland homes, a Derry-born internet security expert has warned.

Robert O’Brien, CEO of MetaCompliance, a global Information Security and Compliance software company which employs 50 people in Derry, says a lack of regulation in the surge of the “Internet of Things” is posing a serious risk to the general public.

“In the race to develop smart devices for mass consumption, it appears that there was little thought given to security. The rise of the Internet of Things has in turn given rise to an increased cyber threat to our homes,” say the Creggan native.

The Internet of Things (or IoT) is about connecting a growing number of everyday devices over the internet, items that can talk to us, applications and each other.

Mr O’Brien added: “With cybercrime now a several trillion pound industry worldwide, the Internet of Things is placing everything from our money to our personal details, and even our children, at risk.”

Mr O’Brien made the comments following the recent call in Germany for parents to destroy ‘My Friend Cayla’ dolls because of threats to children from hackers.

The Federal Network Agency (Bundesnetzagentur), which oversees telecommunications in Germany, told parents to destroy the award winning doll due to its vulnerability to cyber attack. Researchers said the bluetooth device embedded in the toy could be employed by hackers to listen and talk to children while they play with it.

Mr O’Brien said: “There is no doubt that this doll represents a risk to children and there are many other devices which pose a risk. When it comes to children and online cyber threats, a zero tolerance approach is the only response. The Cayla doll should be considered a computer. Would you let someone access your kid’s computer? From a security point of view, there is only one tip I would offer on this and that is to put it in the bin. I would advise not letting children use these types of devices at all.”

Mr O’Brien said the move against ‘My Friend in Cayla’ was only the first of many. “There are many items in the same category as this doll in homes. Truth be told, when it came to the development of the internet of things, nobody really thought about security. Thankfully that is beginning to change, however slowly, as more and more people become educated about the risks.”