Center for Cyber Safety and Education: Your Toys Are Listening

We have all heard the horror stories from our parents about the days when you had to actually get out of your chair to change one of the three channels on the TV or flip a record to hear more music. But now we have evolved past the remote and many of the gadgets and toys we use today are voice activated. You don’t even have to push a button, rather simply say the device or dolls name, and they follow your command. Without trying to conjure up scenes from the movie Child’s Play, this modern convenience comes with great risk to your privacy that you need to be aware of, and correct.

Some of the hottest toys and gadgets this holiday season were ones like Smartphones, Google Home, Amazon Echo, My Friend Cayla, and doorbells with cameras. All designed to be fun, interactive and make our lives easier. Voice activation is a great way to answer the phone or change the radio station when your hands are full and you are across the room, but did you ever think about how that toy knows to answer your voice command? …IT WAS LISTENING! Yes, it is always on and listening to all the conversations going on in the room. Like a toy solider, it stands waiting for you to bark out instructions. It never sleeps and can hear everything you say. Creeped-out yet? You should be.

Change That Password!

Now, am I telling you to unplug it like Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey? No. The advances being made in technology are incredible and can make our life better, but you do need to make sure you are using them properly and, more importantly, are setting them up correctly. That new doorbell that hooks to your smartphone, the garage door opener that you can use from your office, or the refrigerator that tells you when you are out of milk, have several things in common. The key is Wi-Fi. They all hook up to your phone via its wireless and cellular capabilities which allows you to use it anywhere. But another thing they have in common is default passwords setup at the factory. Something as simple as 1,2,3,4. But even if yours came with a tougher password, it is still one in series of the other like devices, and can be cracked and hacked in seconds by someone parked on the street in front of your house.

So on ALL your devices (new and old), you need to go back and change your passwords to something that is much stronger and more difficult to figure out, and I don’t mean use PASSWORD as your password. I know this sounds like a lot of needless work, but this is serious stuff. Even a bad hacker can break into your devices and start listening to your conversations, open your garage door or, worse yet, your children’s conversations in their bedrooms.

But coming up with a password that you can actually remember is impossible, right? Wrong. You have been doing it all your life and never think twice about it. I can think of 10 random numbers that you were given recently that you will never forget…your phone number. How about your Social Security number? All random numbers that mean nothing, yet you can recite them in an instant. So why is a password any more difficult? Because we break out into cold sweats in fear that we will someday forget one and be locked-out of Facebook forever.

Obviously, NEVER use your phone or Social Security number as a password! Your password should be a good combination of numbers, letters, and symbols. Again, you easily remember other important information in your life, password safety should be considered just as important. Still think you might not be able to remember a good password? Well, no excuses! Use an online Password Vault or Safe to securely remember them for you. Some services are free while others are inexpensive and most have phone, computer, and browser-based access.

Tips From the Experts

We turned to the best cyber security experts in the world, the members of the International Information System Security Certification Consortium, commonly called (ISC)², for their tips on how to create better and stronger passwords that even you can remember. To learn what they do, go to our website or just click here. I think you will be surprised how easy it is to make all your devices and online accounts safe and secure.

For even more tips on how to set up your children’s new devices, click here.

Once you do that, use your new safe device to watch some of the movies I referenced above. But I warn you, ever since I saw Chucky in Child’s Play, I can’t go in my kid’s room in the dark…I think all the dolls are watching me.

Patrick Craven headshotAbout the author: Patrick Craven is the director for the Center for Cyber Safety and Education (Center), a non-profit charitable trust committed to making the cyber world a safer place for everyone. The Center works to ensure that people across the globe have a positive and safe experience online through their educational programs, scholarships, and research. Visit If you have questions or topic ideas please send them to [email protected]



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