SXSW Spotlight: The Security Side of Wearable Tech


With the Apple Watch set to storm the smartwatch market in April, the security implications of new wearable devices will be the focus of a workshop at this year’s SXSW Interactive.

Under Secretary for Science and Technology Dr. Reginald Brothers and Deputy Under Secretary for Science and Technology Dr. Robert Griffin will lead a discussion about “Saving Lives: Reinventing Government R&D through Wearable Tech” at the SXSW Interactive in the Austin Convention Center on March 13. Drs. Brothers and Griffin will discuss how the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate is researching and developing ways wearables can contribute to strengthening security. Participants will learn how innovators and entrepreneurs can work with S&T, hear from security responders about current needs, and be invited to share input.

An infographic by The Dig sums up the event as an opportunity to discover, network and share about smartwatch security as well as other hot tech topics like 3D printing.

Data and Privacy

Wearable technology encompasses security issues even more complex than computers and other mobile devices. With these technologies, wearables share security issues like password protection, guarding sensitive data, secure information transfer, and stopping malicious intrusions.

But devices like smartwatches and Google Glass add other variables. For starters, your geolocation is pinpointed even more precisely since it’s directly attached to your body.

Wearables may include cameras and microphones that potentially turn your smartwatch into a portable surveillance device. For this reason, technology analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group says wearables will likely be banned from public locations where privacy is an issue — including bathrooms, courtrooms and law offices. You can likewise imagine the dilemma of a teacher trying to police a classroom full of students who can share test answers via smartwatch.

From Virtual Theft to Real Break-ins

In an age where smartwatches and smartphones are increasingly integrated with smart homes and smart cars, virtual security breaches can set the stage for real-time burglaries and malice. A smart home connects the Internet to your home’s appliances, lighting, climate control system, entertainment system and security system. InfoWorld editor Caroline Craig points out numerous things that can go wrong with this scenario. For instance, security experts have demonstrated how a hacker can bypass vulnerabilities to access home appliances and pick electronic locks. Similarly, Kaspersky has warned that a hacker can destroy an insecure driverless car instantly, and the FBI has warned that such vehicles can be hijacked and misused as lethal weapons.

Health Impacts

Wearable security concerns impact the interface between smartwatches and the security industry, where wearables such as Fitbits have already grown popular as fitness tracking devices. While this can promote health benefits, it also poses the risk of sensitive personal information and health data being stolen when devices get hacked or transmissions to health care providers get compromised, Appthority mobile app risk management expert Domingo Guerra points out.

Despite these potential drawbacks, the benefits of having a smart device you can wear on your wrist carries an undeniable appeal. Everyone will be wearing smartwatches soon, so attend SXSW’s workshop and get ahead of the curve on how to handle the security challenges accompanying wearables.