You Are A Cyber Threat To Your Mother In Retirement, Here's How
“I’m your friend,” the creepy intruder announced. Terrorizing his eight-year old victim, the voice encouraged her to destroy her room. A recent news report, and video, shows a frightened little girl being taunted by a vulgar cyber-criminal that hacked through a home security camera in her room. The very technology that the little girl’s parents installed for her safety, and for their peace of mind, provided a virtual gateway for a stranger to enter their child’s bedroom.
All of us are vulnerable to cyber attacks, but it may be those we most wish to protect with technology that we may put at the highest risk.
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Smart devices, appliances, and other technologies that are connected and communicate with other each other, are part of the evolving Internet-of-Things. These devices connect us to an ever-growing range of services that support convenience, health, safety, and security.
Today, at least one in four families are providing care to an aging loved one. If not a spouse, it is typically an aging parent – often a mother living alone. While older baby boomers have high expectations for technology to help them age well, it may be younger, tech-savvy Gen X and Millennial caregivers, sandwiched between work, childcare, and life, that are most likely to use technology to extend their capacity to provide care. At a recent MIT AgeLab-Transamerica symposium on caregiving, technology was identified as an indispensable means to care for aging parents. But, will that high-tech care put their parents at higher risk of cyber hacking in retirement?
Manufacturers and retailers are providing adult children with an amazing and unprecedented range of smart devices forming a virtual security blanket of care services to keep aging parents connected, healthy, and safe.
From handheld tablets, to robots with video chat functions, technology is providing a window into mom’s home for friends and family to simply say hello or to ensure that she is okay. And, don’t forget smart assistants placed throughout the home. Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Home, or Apple’s HomePod are connected and listening – waiting to answer a question from mom about the weather, cue an exercise routine, or order a meal.
Even mom’s inner sanctum, her kitchen, is now connected to the outside. Smart refrigerators are equipped with cameras, enabling the device to monitor what is inside and who is using it on the outside. Some intelligent refrigerators even suggest a meal plan using contents that are about to expire. Connected kitchen devices, such as smart forks and spoons, can monitor mom’s eating habits, while other appliances place grocery orders when supplies run low so that mom never runs out of her favorite ice cream.
An entire generation of health technology is being introduced into the home to help mom manage her health. Pill reminder systems, for example, connected to the Internet beep, glow, buzz, and even squeak like a small pet to encourage her to take her medications – some even dispense pills in the correct dosage, at the correct time.
And, while the Internet-of-Things is typically thought of as devices around us, connected technology includes devices inside us. Mom may now have a smart glucose sensor under her skin transmitting blood sugar levels to her phone alerting her to take insulin. Other systems go beyond simply monitoring and automatically adjust her insulin levels.
Adult child caregivers can’t be everywhere all the time. A phone call does not always alleviate concerns for mom’s wellbeing. Many adult children want real time information about their parent’s daily activities – how active is she, is she sleeping well, who is visiting her, and more. Tech-savvy caregivers are purchasing systems that enable 24/7 monitoring, all in the name of mom’s safety and security. Sensors placed throughout the home can indicate if mom spends all her time in the family room watching television, if she is cooking a healthy meal, or how much time she spends in the bathroom. And, don’t forget the front door, multiple devices are available to provide alerts and live video of anyone that visits mom.
Aside from issues of a parent’s personal privacy and dignity, all of these systems, purchased by well-meaning adult children, may be creating a risk never imagined. Similar to the parents of the eight-year old girl who had her bedroom security camera hacked, adult children may be inadvertently inviting strangers into their mother’s home.
Discussions of cyber security often spotlight financial and identity theft. These are real and serious. However, other risks may present greater harm than lost money or identity.
A hacker may not only invade your mother’s privacy, but also create unimaginable mischief by making various systems malfunction. The lights may be turned on and off at random times of day and night, a television may change channels for no reason, or a smart refrigerator may order 20 gallons of chocolate ice cream rather than the one pint of coffee mom wants.
There can be more serious impacts as well. The smart wristband designed to detect a fall is triggered so often by a hacker that mom becomes frustrated with the device. She ultimately takes off the band and unplugs the system. Or an adult child receives so many false alarms, that they develop alarm fatigue – the system that once served as a vital link to ensure their loved one’s wellbeing no longer commands urgency and immediate action.
Now imagine more existential threats. Ransomware is inserted into her home’s network disrupting an entire smart infrastructure installed to keep her safe and healthy. A hacker cracks your mother’s medication reminder, withholding critical medications. Or, her connected implantable glucose monitoring system is triggered to push too much insulin.
Technology now provides a critical role in supporting caregivers and the wellbeing of older adults. However, caregivers now have a new job — the cyber security of their older loved ones. Identifying and purchasing trusted technology and related services is now only the first step. It is becoming increasingly important to ensure the highest level of possible security to protect these systems, and our loved ones, from hacking. Manufacturers and providers should be prepared to demonstrate and compete on the superior security of their systems and services for families caring for the most vulnerable. Insurers may develop a different type of insurance product that goes far beyond homeowners coverage or the traditional cyber insurance protection of identity and information breach.
Technology is now a vital part of living well in retirement. If the risks can be effectively managed, smart technology and related services offer older adults an unprecedented opportunity to live safely at home — and provide caregivers with what is often elusive — peace of mind.