A Sting Exclusive: “Cybersecurity: Why consumer products must be looked at urgently”, by BEUC’s Deputy Director General

ursula-pachl 2019.jpg

Ms Ursula Pachl, BEUC’s Deputy Director General.

This article was exclusively written and published for The European Sting by Ms. Ursula Pachl, Deputy Director General of BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation. The opinions expressed in this article belong to our distinguished writer.

 

According to estimates there will be 75 billion connected devices globally in 2025. More and more traditional consumer products that can connect to the Internet (the Internet of Things) are coming to the market: cars, baby monitors, fridges, toys, washing machines, tooth brushes just to name a few.

Connected devices could bring potential advances, for instance making services more convenient. IoT security cameras allow consumers remotely to watch what happens in their house. Connected lights enable people to switch lights on and off from a distance and smart thermostats can optimise your heating and allow you to save energy. A fridge could order food directly from an online supermarket when a consumer is running low on something.

However, these new products also carry risks – risks related to our physical safety, loss of personal data, 24/7 surveillance by business, payment fraud and others.

Consumer products are also becoming different in nature: they increasingly are a mix of hardware, software, data and services. And IoT products not only need to be safe, they also need to be secure, yet they evolve all the time. As they are connected to the internet, software updates are needed regularly. These can happen remotely – sometimes without the consumer knowing. They may happen to improve security features, increase the performance but they can also change the functionalities of the product.

Testing, testing, testing

Our member organisations, national consumer groups, have carried out numerous tests of IoT products. Thanks to that, consumers have access to independent information about which connected products one should buy and which ones to avoid. But these tests are not only an important source of information for consumers. It is through these findings that finally European institutions have realised that many consumer products are now connected but that they are not at all cybersecure: Sadly, the results of our members’ tests show that the market is swamped with products which pose big risks.

Belgian consumer group Test Achats/Test Aankoop asked two ethical hackers to find security flaws in 19 popular smart devices, like alarm systems, a smart lock and a robot vacuum cleaner, which they had installed in one apartment. It wasn’t really rocket-science to find security flaws. They also easily managed to break into the apartment.[1]

Unfortunately, children’s products are among those most at risk. Consumer group Forbrukerrådet from Norway raised the alarm when it discovered that the internet-connected toys ‘My Friend Cayla’ and ‘i-Que’ fail miserably when it comes to safeguarding basic consumer rights, security, and privacy.[2] German consumer association Stiftung Warentest also showed how connected toys could be used to spy on children.[3]

EU laws are not up to the challenge

While problems with internet connected products are now getting more attention, the EU’s legal system is lacking a horizontal cybersecurity legislation which requires all IoT products to be cybersecure.

And although there is a set of rules to ensure that products that are put onto the European market are safe, the EU’s product safety legislation is not enough because it defines the concept of safety too narrowly to deal with the risks related to internet-connected objects. The EU law to date protects consumers against products which can physically harm consumers such as an unstable ladder for instance or dangerous chemicals in furniture or toys. But what about the payment fraud because a computer was hacked? What rules apply to protect against hackable smart door locks which allow burglars to intrude in your house? And what will prevent IoT toys which endanger a child’s privacy from hitting the market?

Another lacuna is that because of the lack of a legal base for mandatory security, effective market checks are missing. Even though a recent recall from the Iceland market surveillance body shows that action is possible[4], the above described problem with the definition of what is a ‘safe’ product means authorities are not wiping out products that pose risk to consumers due to security flaws.

Small products, big risks

It would be a tragic mistake to dismiss the security flaws of household appliances, toys or watches as a small-scale consumer problem. As we are living in a connected world, cyber-attacks on these problems can be harmful for society at large. Cyber-attacks have led to huge damages to the economy, shut down hospitals and could even endanger our country’s electricity system in the future. Making consumer products safer is critical.

Problems not solved with the Cybersecurity Act

In 2018, the EU adopted a Cybersecurity Act. It has enlarged the role of the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA) and put in place a cybersecurity certification scheme. Any potential future certification scheme for the security of consumer IoT will however only be voluntary for business. Consequently, unsecure connected products can still end up on the market.

Over the past years we have repeatedly called for binding rules which would require all manufacturers of connected consumer products to adhere to a minimum set of cybersecurity measures before placing their products on the market. These binding rules would include at least strong authentication mechanisms (i.e. connected products would require the consumer to use strong passwords, the availability of security updates and encryption of data).

We hope that the next European Commission will take action to ensure that all products are not only safe but also secure. For now, our member organisations will continue to test products, inform consumers and alert authorities when they discover grave security flaws. Authorities – following the Icelandic example – may use existing legislation creatively to remove products from the market. The UK Government Code of Practice for Consumer IoT Security is a leading national example which can make a difference. And, finally, ENISA should provide guidance for consumer IoT producers and importers.

It is encouraging to see an increase of awareness as to the scale of the problem, and the recognition that cybersecurity is a consumer issue also seen as a in. This must now translate into tangible results.

References

[1] https://www.test-aankoop.be/hightech/internet/nieuws/slimme-woning

[2] https://www.beuc.eu/publications/consumer-organisations-across-eu-take-action-against-flawed-internet-connected-toys/html

[3] https://www.test.de/Smart-Toys-Wie-vernetzte-Spielkameraden-Kinder-aushorchen-5221688-0/

[4] https://ec.europa.eu/consumers/consumers_safety/safety_products/rapex/alerts/?event=viewProduct&reference=A12/0157/19&lng=en

About the author

Ms. Pachl is the Deputy Director General of BEUC, The European Consumer Organisation, representing 43 independent national consumer associations from 32 European countries. Before this, she has held different positions at BEUC, starting as Legal Advisor, than working as Senior Policy and Institutional Affairs Advisor. In her current role Ms. Pachl leads BEUC’s work on digital policies, consumer rights, redress and enforcement. She is also responsible for horizontal and strategic policy such as EU governance and Better Regulation issues and represents BEUC in High Level groups, namely the European Commission’s High Level Group for Artificial Intelligence, the stakeholder group of the EU’s Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA) and the European Commission’s REFIT platform. With over 20 years of experience, Ursula is a seasoned consumer lawyer and advocate who has helped to shape European consumer law and policy. In particular, she has developed BEUC’s law enforcement activities and is currently leading a project on using AI for the implementation of consumer and data subjects’ rights. She is passionate about mainstreaming consumer’s needs into EU policies and ensuring that the digital transformation takes the right direction, leading to a better society for all. Prior to working for BEUC, Ursula worked for the Austrian Federal ministry for Health and Consumer Protection in Vienna and for the Austrian Consumer Information Association as a member of the consumer advisory board. Ursula is the author of several articles in consumer law and policy journals and regularly comments on consumer issues in the media. She holds a master’s degree in law and a post-graduate degree in cultural management. The primary task of BEUC is to act as a strong consumer voice in Brussels and to try to ensure that consumer interests are given their proper weight in the development of all Union policies.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

How wealthy people transmit this advantage to their children and grand children

3 important lessons from 20 years of working with social entrepreneurs

Macron leads EU-wide minimum wage call as Merkel, Medvedev warn of global injustice

Security Council: UN welcomes efforts to de-escalate crisis in northeast Syria

TTIP update: postponed vote and INTA meeting shuffle cards again

This is how India can become the next Silicon Valley

Governments must act to help struggling middle class

Tackling ‘deeply worrying’ global rise in anti-Semitism is a job for all societies everywhere, says UN chief

Key Brazilian border crossing for Venezuela refugees reopens as asylum numbers pass last year’s total

Preserving biodiversity vital to reverse tide of climate change, UN stresses on International Day

Finally an answer to the hottest question of European youth today: How to make sure Juncker’s Investment Plan works for youth

Commission report: EU data protection rules empower citizens and are fit for the digital age

Human traffickers in Libya are posing as UN staff, says Refugee Agency

The future of crypto-assets, from opportunities to policy implications

European Union signs aviation agreement with the Republic of Korea

Deep fakes could threaten democracy. What are they and what can be done?

COVID-19’s isolated world is the norm for people for disabilities

This entrepreneur built an island resort out of plastic waste

Liaison Officer – 2020

Brexit casts a shadow over the LSE – Deutsche Börse merger: a tracer of how or if brexit is to be implemented

EU tells Britain stay in as long as you wish

The Amazon is reaching a dangerous tipping-point. We need to scale solutions now if we have any chance of saving it

UN receives ‘Humanium’ wristwatch gift, symbolizing peaceful transformation

How young people can help respond to the coronavirus outbreak

Yellow vests, rising violence – what’s happening in France?

Why Obama asks approval from Congress to bomb Syria?

G7: A serious setback hardly avoided in iconic Biarritz

Will ECB win against low inflation by not following Quantitave Easing?

Time to measure up: 5 ways the fashion industry can be made more sustainable

Why the world needs the youth revolution more than ever

UN, global health agencies sound alarm on drug-resistant infections; new recommendations to reduce ‘staggering number’ of future deaths

This Japanese town has banned urban sprawl

“Fortress Europe”, “Pegida” and its laughing stocks

Rising number of young people excluded from jobs, education and training

Mark Zuckerberg will be at the European Parliament today to meet President Tajani and the political group chairpersons

The Indian miracle state pointing the way to global sustainability

Transport Committee pledges to stop empty flights due to COVID-19

Could switching between summer and winter time end in 2021?

Are Halloween pumpkins a problem for the planet?

Matthias in Canada

EU guidance on the handling of visa applications from residents of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions

UN agency hails Brazil ‘milestone’ decision over Venezuelan refugees

Bill Gates’ top 10 breakthrough technologies of 2019

Indonesia: Psychological impact on earthquake survivors turns villages into ‘ghost towns’

A Sting Exclusive: “Change is challenge, change is opportunity”, Commissioner Bienkowska cries out live from European Business Summit 2015

Further reforms needed for a stronger and more integrated Europe

People talk less now than during the Cold War, says Merkel at Davos

What has a year of experiments taught us about basic income?

Climate change takes toll on Zimbabwe’s natural habitat, UN deputy chief observes

St Patrick’s Day during a pandemic – how people celebrated this year

Business can be profitable AND drive progress on societal priorities

More attacks, ‘persisting security challenges’ threaten progress in West Africa, Sahel

What are the real debates surrounding immigration in an increasingly globalized world?

Prepare for a ‘new normal’ as lockdown restrictions ease: Monday’s COVID-19 WHO briefing

AI looks set to disrupt the established world order. Here’s how

The secret weapon in the fight for sustainability? The humble barcode

Quality coffee can boost local economies and benefit farmers – here’s how

Ebola not an international ‘health emergency’ but risks spreading across DR Congo border, warns UN health agency

Eurostat overturns Commission’s assessment of the economy

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s