Healthcare Technology Featured Article

June 01, 2022

Privacy and Wearable Tech - Can VPNs Help?

While the use of fitness trackers actually dropped from 21% to just 18% between 2020 and 2021 (largely thanks to the cessation of lockdown measures), ownership of smartwatches increased incrementally from 15% to 17% during the same period.

This means that the wearable technology market remains big business in 2022, although some 42% of users are becoming increasingly concerned about how much health data is being tracked through devices such as fitness trackers and smartwatches.

But what sort of data is at risk through wearable technology, and what steps can you take to safeguard this from the machinations of hackers? Let’s find out!

What Data Risks are Associated with Wearable Technology?

In simple terms, fitness trackers enable us to monitor our daily activity and physical performance, potentially helping us to improve our health and making us more aware of critical indicators such as heart rate and (in the case of more recent smartwatches) our blood-oxygen levels.

In the process of achieving these objectives, however, they’re known to collate large swathes of potentially sensitive data, which can be accumulated to build a picture of your daily activity and create opportunities for hackers. Some of the most prominent wearable tech datasets include:

  • The time you wake in the morning
  • How far you walk each day
  • Your weight
  • Your blood pressure and heart rate
  • How many calories you consume each day
  • When you go to sleep in the evening

While these snippets of information may seem harmless enough by themselves, it should be noted that they may be combined and supplemented to create more comprehensive sets of personal data.

Most fitness trackers connect with an app on your smartphone through Bluetooth connectivity. This automatically means that your fitness data can be paired with other and more valuable items of personal data on your mobile device, creating a valuable package from the perspective of hackers.

At the same time, apps are known to have hidden but potentially damaging vulnerabilities that can be exploited by seasoned hackers.

You may also be particularly vulnerable if you connect your smartphone to a public Wi-Fi network when using your fitness tracker, as hackers have been known to set up rogue but familiar sounding access points to gain access to your information.

Even without hacking your device, a potential cyberthief could intercept the Bluetooth signal sent back to the smartphone and use this to guess your pin. This unlocks further data risks, including health information and other deeply personal datasets.

How Can You Protect This Information?

As we can see, having your initial health data compromised isn’t necessarily too damaging, as in most instances it won’t immediately reveal your identity.

However, by connecting your fitness tracker or smartwatch to a mobile app, you’re creating a direct link to alternative datasets that may reveal your identity and information such as your age, address or physical location (particularly as you’ll usually have to create an app account using your name and email address at least).

It’s this that truly makes your data valuable, but the good news is that you can utilise a virtual private network (VPN) to break this link and make yourself a far less attractive target for hackers.

On a fundamental level, a VPN won’t safeguard the data collated through your fitness tracker or smartwatch. This is because VPNs function by creating a virtual through which data is encrypted and routed, but this only works while the information in question is in transit.

Unfortunately, all garnered fitness and health data remains tied to the user’s account, which in turn is hosted by the device’s manufacturer.

However, a VPN does mask your device’s IP address and create a sense of anonymity online, ensuring that your fitness data cannot be easily paired with other personal or sensitive information that’s unique to you.

As a result, the data immediately available to hackers is far less valuable, and in this respect a VPN can worth its weight in gold as a viable deterrent.

The Bottom Line

When you download a VPN onto your smartphone or PC, one of the main advantages is that you can leverage a much needed layer of network security when accessing public Wi-Fi connections.

However, you can also complete a VPN download to help safeguard one or all of your individual devices, encrypting and protecting your data while in transit while ensuring that your activity and physical location remains invisible to others active on a particular network.

This protection even applies to fitness trackers and smartwatches, even if a VPN cannot directly safeguard the app gathered by these devices. Instead, you can at least use a reputable VPN client to prevent pairing and stop hackers from accessing more complete datasets online.

To identify the best and most reputable product, be sure to compare the market in detail and prioritise clients that offer a free trial of their VPN.

This way, you can see precisely what they have to offer, while appraising the level of protection that they provide on different devices.

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