In Part 1 of this story, PDD examined the issues of product safety and labeling. In Part 2, we examine the challenges of IoT-connected products and misuse of products
Hackers Love Smart Products
Today, numerous products are made into smart products that have integrated sensors and software built into their designs via a wired or wireless internet connection. The integration of internet access represents a risk if the portal is not understood and properly managed. Now, if a product malfunctions, the underlying cause may not be from a component failing or manufacturing defect.
“If the integrated software is perpetrated from the outside, a hacker may reprogram the device causing the loss,” H. Michael O’Brien, Partner at Wilson Elser Moskowitz Eldelman and Dicker LLP said.
There is a new vulnerability to products when technology that is susceptible to hackers is installed or integrated into households. For example, if an internet accessible thermostat exists in a home a hacker could turn off the furnace, causing water pipes to freeze during cold winter months.
“If 5.5 million products are connected to the internet, it’s going to happen,” says O’Brien. “You are a target if your product is on the internet.”
Smart device owners who willingly allow internet companies to monitor their smart devices may be unaware a profile of their preferences is being stored, shared and in some cases sold.
This ongoing plethora of information is frightening to users and buyers, but also to product engineers. As a product gets re-designed and re-engineered the software in it is continuously in development. O’Brien says there is now a priority to manage security throughout the entire life of a product. Now, the underlying question is “how do manufacturers and engineers address cyber security issues as a smart product advances through its life cycles?”
Ensuring smart products are safe and preventing cyber-attacks has become a difficult, new component when creating a product.
“The power of technology, to be able to take command and control physical objects, has created an entirely new area of property damage and physical damage from products being taken over,” says O’Brien.
Although technological security is a rising concern, sometimes people can unintentionally misuse their product from lack of information. Information accidents are when a product provides information, but it still contributes to an accident.
Charles Burhan, senior consultant with Applied Safety and Ergonomics, gave the example of a candle and soap making book gone wrong. In the book there were instructions about how a reaction could occur when creating lard soap, but when giving instructions the writers did not specify in which order the ingredients should be mixed.
This caused many lard soap makers to get burned. “This would be a bad surprise,” says Burhan. “There’s a lot of pressure on technical writers and engineers. They now need a process to check the accuracy of the information provided with the product.”
It can even be as simple as incorrectly instructing the end-user to turn their ceiling fans counterclockwise instead of clockwise when connecting the fan to the ceiling. Now, as AR and VR headsets and devices become more apparent, explicit instructions need to be designed to cater to end users. Oftentimes, VR headsets give wearers the perception their surroundings are real. Today, manufacturers and designers need to add instructions, such as cautioning users to watch their step or confirming the VR tables included in the game are not meant to lean on (this happened in a VR billiards game where users were using the pool table to support themselves).
As technology continues to be integrated into products, engineers, manufacturers and industry experts will need to realign safety precautions to ensure their design is safe from hackers and not misused by end users.