Keeping Your Child’s Data Safe

Product Updates
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June 26, 2017
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John Renaldi, CEO, Jiobit & Mike Spertus, Chief Scientist, Symantec

Keeping Your Child’s Data Safe

The number one question we get from parents is this: Who else can see my child’s location? It’s a valid concern that any parent is going to have when it comes to tech products for their kids. There’s good reason for concern; it seems like every few months we hear about a hacking incident. Here’s the truth: Many hardware companies don’t worry about security. Sure, they think about it (well, maybe some do), but thinking is not worrying, like a parent worries about their kids. The worry that causes you to have a stomach ache. That worry.

Don’t just think about security: Worry about it.

When we set out to build a location tracker for children, we knew that child safety would become our full time job. We’ve been worrying about security ever since. Unfortunately, not all companies do this. If you take a look at new hardware startups, typically the best you can find regarding security is that they transmit data over HTTPS from their app, or have some rudimentary authentication, and call it a day. In fact, a quick look at the “Wearables” section on Kickstarter, shows that more than 90% of campaigns don’t discuss device security at all.

That’s because in the mad dash to launch a product, security tends to get deprioritized. This is all well and good, until it isn’t. Eventually there will be a security incident and an unprepared company will be forced to take a quick and reactive approach to address it. Here’s a recent example: Internet toymaker, Cloud Pets, was easily hacked and all data on children, including their voices and photos, was ransomed. Over 820,000 user accounts were exposed.

So when you buy your next gadget or gizmo, ask yourself if this company is really worrying about security. Can you trust them to protect your valuable information? In the coming years, our hope is that the answer starts to become “yes.” At Jiobit, we want to set the bar, and then clear it.

So what are the most concerning security deficiencies seen for consumer hardware?

As the wearables and IoT markets have grown, internet connected consumer devices are more and more susceptible to hackers. While there are many security deficiencies we’ve seen in products from large and small companies, here are the most concerning for consumer hardware:

1. Encryption keys in the clear - Security keys that encrypt data and identify users that are transmitted between consumer hardware devices and their cloud backend many times are stored unprotected and in the clear on IoT devices. While the communications link is encrypted, that traffic could be easily unencrypted by grabbing the keys right off the device.

2. Unsecured Bluetooth - With the advent of Bluetooth Smart or otherwise known as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), gadgets and gizmos in the millions are creating connections with smartphones. Many devices don’t encrypt the data across Bluetooth and are so insecure they have been proven to be intercepted with man in the middle attacks. Even those that do rely on out-of-the-box encryption for BLE are prone to eavesdropping and hijacking of the communications.

3. No competency in cloud engineering - As digital toymaker Vtech demonstrated when their cloud was hacked, (names, home addresses, and even pictures and chat logs) companies building children’s toys and internet enabled gizmos for your kids typically don’t have the expertise in building secure platform in house. They either outsource or don’t prioritize it, meaning these platforms are hastily put together with very little focus on security.

4. Quick and dirty authentication - Companies will use their own simple username/password authentication instead of secure and trusted identity platform from Google, Facebook, or others which include robust alerting and intrusion detection. Also, as startups prioritize speed, they may store username/passwords in an unsecured storage location on the smartphone, making it easily retrievable to hackers.

Recommendations for going beyond “checking the box”

When it comes to protecting this sensitive data, we cannot just check the box. We have to go the extra mile (or two). That’s because Jiobit collects location data of those wearing the device, which is typically kids.

Jiobit is a product that allows parents to know where their kids are at all times: Inside, outside, up or down, and in 160 countries. Clearly, this is sensitive data. Given the lackluster approach to security we’ve seen in the industry, we have to do way better.

At the end of the day, we’re selling trust. We found that while parents care about the device specs, we also learned security was the top concern for parents considering location based tech for their kids. So we began highlighting what we’re doing to safeguard parent’s information, because from the beginning, Jiobit had to be secure by design. Here are the steps we’ve taken to ensure that our users’ data is always secure:

- Partnering with AWS - Each Jiobit device is assigned a unique key that cannot be copied or extracted from the device. This authentication token, along with various encryption techniques, allows us to protect data communications between our device and the Amazon IoT cloud. AWS tools have been critical to securing our platform (more on this below).

- Tamper resistant security chip - Take an extra measure beyond encrypting data in transit to ensure your device authenticates securely and resists potential attackers. Consider adding a secure element, a device typically used for “chip” credit card technology. An encrypted link can be made between the element and your cloud such that not even your firmware knows how to decipher this link. The link is used to establish the intended device's identity and create further encrypted sessions. AWS IoT has done a great job using their Just In Time Registration (JITR) capability, which automatically provisions a device in the cloud and assigns unique keys without the need for manual programming or embedding these secrets into firmware.

- Using a cloud backed secure Bluetooth communication - While Bluetooth provides clear battery life benefits, the low energy format has well-known exploits that can enable eavesdropping.  Take additional steps to protect the Bluetooth connection. A tamper-resistant security IC can play a central role in enabling this additional security by providing a way to create a trusted and encrypted connection with a mobile device.

- Keeping all data secure in transit - When any data is in transit, whether it is via cellular, Wifi or Bluetooth, keep it private by using TLS and AES cipher suites. This protects against eavesdropping or manipulation of the data. For example, AWS IoT authenticates devices during the establishment of a data connection, and once authenticated the devices use the connection to send data to/receive data from the cloud. Don’t protect one path, but keep another one clear.

- Keeping data secure at rest - Once the data is received from a device make all identifiable or personal data encrypted at rest as well as in transit. Also don’t forget to protect communications for cloud-to-cloud communications.

Additional security thoughts to consider

- Smartphone data protection - Smartphone apps should never store the user's password on the phone. It should store a user specific token, which is encrypted and secured by a smartphone keystore system. That token is periodically renewed to make it more secure. Additionally, make sure your app will not run on rooted/jailbroken phones in order to maintain a secure environment.

- User authentication - Use trusted 3rd party identity platforms for user authentication, which will store a secure token that is periodically renewed by the cloud and does not retain any user/name passwords.

- Secure firmware updates - Devices with outdated firmware are easy targets for hackers. When there's an important update, make sure firmware updates are cryptographically signed to prevent malware insertion.

Three security principles you should be applying to your company

- Use industry standard methods - Take consumer privacy and data protection seriously. Apply the most advanced industry-standard methods to protect our customers’ data,  including the application of standard and well-known cloud tools such as Google Cloud Platform and Amazon Web Services.  

- Design from the onset - Commit to security in the beginning of your design process. Make sure it guides every design decision you make.  Acknowledge not all threats are known and you have to make security and privacy a continuous process throughout the lifetime of the product and service.

- Think about device security - Seek to exceed standard IoT device design practices by implementing measures to protect against device attacks and cloning. Store critical data in intrusion-hardened hardware and prevent reprogramming of devices. Security should be on everyone's mind. Hardware startups might be tempted to just laser focus on their newly designed systems and neglect to apply security practices across their entire technology stack.

As IoT solutions continue to dominate the tech scene, more sensitive consumer data will be at stake. This means that security in IoT is more critical than ever. As emerging companies think about their own security architecture, it’s important to make sure your partners share your same priorities. We set out to build a safety product for parents and kids, so security was top of mind - and the motivation behind our AWS partnership.

About Jiobit: More than a kids GPS tracker

In a tiny and discreet form factor, Jiobit is the smallest and longest lasting location monitor designed for kids. It’s unique combination of radios and sensors allows it to track in every location - indoors, outdoors, above or below, and in over 160 countries. This along with it’s incredible battery life (more than a week) and unique form factor (a smart tag rather than a bulky wrist-based device) separates it from other kid trackers on the market.

On the software side, a Jiobit app shows parents their kids’ location, learns routes and safe zones, provides a mobile geofence for use in crowded places. Also, Jiobit proactively sends notifications to parents if something unusual happens, compared to a child’s regular routine.

As mentioned, Jiobit is designed for kids and their parents. When a parent invests in their kids’ safety, it shouldn’t bring additional stresses, like worrying about the security of kids’ location data. That’s why we’ve gone above and beyond to protect our data.

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