My Friend Cayla, an innocent looking children’s doll gracing the homes of tens of thousands of kids around the world, was recently named an “illegal espionage apparatus.” It’s not the only smart toy, either. Practically every toy that connects to the internet is an open invitation for hackers, identity thieves, and predators—and it’s a danger that isn’t going away.
You may think I’m being an alarmist, but the Federal Network Agency in Germany literally labeled the cute doll a spy that must be destroyed.
Here’s the issue: Cayla is a “connected” toy that can listen and respond to kids. It even has a video camera. But Cayla, like most toys, is not designed with security in mind; its primary objective is to be a lovable toy that your child will adore.
This lack of security meant that anyone within a 50-foot range (think a neighbor next door, for instance) can easily connect to the app to watch and even talk to your child. According to experts, with smart toys like Cayla in our home, we unknowingly expose our children to predators. Watch the video below to see what I mean. And bear in mind, you don’t need to be a fancy hacker to do this. You just need a basic phone with Bluetooth and you can pair it up in seconds.
While My Friend Cayla is the most public example, it is not the only toy that is connected to the internet. The Furby Connect doll made headlines when it was found that anyone within 100 feet could take control of the connection, flip on the microphone, and talk to children.
You might think that the risks are pretty remote if you don’t live directly next door to a crazed predator. But here’s the thing: These connected smart toys generally store every voice recording, every video, on the cloud. Here, a hacker from anywhere in the world could gain access.
What sort of content might they find? It could be about your child’s daily life, what time they are getting picked up from school, and any number of sensitive topics that could be used against them.
Major brands like Mattel and Fischer Price are marketing their smart toys to children—smart toys like Hello Barbie, Furby Connect, i-Que Intelligent Robot, Cloud Pets, and Toy-Fi teddy, to name a few.
It’s imperative for parents to realize what they are bringing into their homes. This isn’t a new issue, but with more and more items now connecting to the internet, we’re increasingly exposed to new threats. Manufacturers of connected devices generally do not add secure methods to stop unwanted connections from coming through.
For years, these manufacturers have been seeking new ways to bring toys to life. Cameras and microphones allow dolls to interact with children in a way we couldn’t have imagined a decade ago, but this interaction comes at a cost.
If one of your child’s toys connects to the internet, make sure that there is some type of password or PIN that protects the connection. You should also ensure that the toy can be updated by the manufacturer so that security updates are downloaded when necessary.
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