‘IoT devices pose a major risk to society’

Smart devices that are connected to each other and the internet thanks to a network of sensors, are changing our society. However, the speed with which these smart devices or IoT devices are being developed comes at a price: in terms of cybersecurity, they are often insecure. As such, they pose “a major risk to society”.

This writes the Telecom Agency in its annual report ‘Safety in times of change’.

Popularity of IoT products is growing fast

Smart devices are popular in the Netherlands. According to calculations by Statistics Netherlands (CBS), three-quarters of the Dutch population has at least one smart device at home. Products such as smart speakers and smart thermostats are popular products in Dutch households. This applies to a lesser extent to smart lighting, smoke detectors and security cameras. It is estimated that there are currently around 35 billion smart devices in circulation worldwide. In 2025 there will be an estimated 75 billion.

It is not without reason that the Telecom Agency devotes an entire chapter to these so-called Internet of Things (IoT) products or smart devices. According to the regulator, this equipment has the capacity to change our society for the better. They exchange information with each other and facilitate or enrich our daily activities. The number of IoT devices is therefore growing rapidly, for both home and business use.

Agency Telecom to enforce Radio Equipment Directive

This growth is not entirely without risk. According to the Telecom Agency, new IoT products are being developed at such a rapid pace that they may be unsafe. For example, the default password is weak or easy to find in the digital manual on the Internet. As a result, these products pose “a major risk to society”. The privacy aspects are of great importance to the user, but infected devices can also be used for DDoS attacks.

But there is hope. From August 2024, new and stricter European laws and regulations will come into effect for IoT devices. Manufacturers who want to sell smart devices in Europe must then comply with the so-called Radio Equipment Directive. This sets out, among other things, the cybersecurity requirements that this equipment must meet. They must also be tested for security holes, shield stored personal and financial information and give consumers and organizations the ability to manage and protect this data.

Telecom Agency will be actively involved in this. Earlier this month, the regulator was officially named the National Cybersecurity Certification Authority (NCCA). To take on this role, the agency has set up an IoT Test Lab. There, smart devices are tested for their cybersecurity. Researchers look at password policies, software updates, communication, protection of personal data and misuse through contamination, among other things.

‘Safety requirements are a first step’

“Digitalization is a necessity and condition for our economic growth. But it also raises new issues, for example in the field of safety and integrity,” said director-chief inspector Angeline van Dijk.

She advocates intensive cooperation between different parties. “The breadth, speed and importance of current digitization mean that we have to tackle such questions integrally and with priority. That is a new and joint social task. It is important not to divide the theme into parts, but to approach it integrally. This is only possible through cross-domain cooperation between citizens, the business community, knowledge institutes and governments.”

Former Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Stef Blok said at the end of last year that cybersecurity is a balancing act for manufacturers of IoT products. “We see that insecure products are an ideal gateway for criminals to steal personal or bank information. Or to take control, allowing a device to be used for a hacking attack on other consumers or businesses. That is why it is essential that the IoT is secure and can be used with confidence.” In his view, basic safety requirements for smart devices are, therefore “the first step”.

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