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ALEXA: HOW SECURE IS MY SMART HOME?

By David Emm, Principal Security Researcher, Kaspersky

 

Baby monitors, CCTV tools and smart home devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Home are all handy additions to today’s modern home. A quarter of Britons now own one or more smart home devices, and by 2023 every home in the UK is expected to contain at least 50 of them. It is therefore becoming increasingly important for consumers to consider the dangers of IoT devices in their homes, as they could be vulnerable to criminals who could be watching or listening and waiting to attack.

During the 2018 Christmas period, the biggest spenders in the UK were families with children, and toys accounted for 31% of online purchases. Many of these toys will have connectivity built in. Yet often, little thought is given to how to secure a connected toy is. Meanwhile, items such as stairgates and child safety locks are seen as an essential part of a family home to protect children from danger. The same level of thought should be given to protecting children from connected toys and monitors from the moment they are purchased.

As connectivity continues to spread into more areas of our home and working lives, manufacturers eagerly continue to put ‘smart’ products on the market that will sell. However often they do so without ensuring that these products have sufficient security measures in place to protect the people that use them. Many of these devices, such as baby monitors, have become such as established part of our everyday lives that we often rely on them without really thinking beyond the benefits they provide. However, in today’s evolving technology landscape – and with the growing threat from cybercriminals –  this way of thinking must change.

When manufacturers install voice recognition, or other smart elements, to a toy, the threat vector for consumers becomes very real, even if the device has been bought from a trusted brand. Even trusted and well-known toys such as Mattel’s Barbie were found to have potential vulnerabilities when they came onto the market.

 

These attacks are no longer just a theoretical possibility, they have actually taken place and left people in danger. One example is a criminal who hacked into parents’ baby monitors and threatened to kidnap a 4-month-old child.

One key security challenge that consumers face in relation to connected devices in their home is that they may not be directly affected by the actions a cybercriminal takes to compromise the device. Cybercriminals might bide their time – for example, gathering personal data, but not acting until they have everything they need, so that their attack goes unnoticed until it’s too late. In addition, cybercriminals might use the device to launch a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack on the provider of some online resource at the other side of the world.

Manufacturers must help consumers mitigate the risks of connected technology by ensuring basic security protocols – and building security into the design of smart tools, toys and other devices. Vendors must take cyber-security seriously. The  government’s initiative and code of practice for the design of IoT devices is a positive step in the right direction (although I would also like to see it include some form of ‘smart-safe’ logo that can be easily identified by potential purchasers of a device..

 

However, the need to keep connected devices secure isn’t solely the responsibility of manufacturers. Kaspersky advises consumers to always consider the following, to ensure the safe use of their smart devices:

1. Are the extras essential?

Do you need the functionality that’s in the device you’ve just bought? If it comes with X, Y and Z, but you only really need X, disable what you don’t need, or look for a product with just the functionality you need. More functionality simply makes a product more vulnerable to a cyber-attack.

 

2. Look at reviews.

Has this product been reviewed – and well? Has it got a good reputation in terms of safety? If there’s a lot of negative feedback, consider whether you should invest in it at all.

 

3. Change default settings.

Does the device come with a default password? If it does, change it immediately. Some manufacturers of routers, for example, ship a devices with a unique key – which is something that all manufacturers should be doing. However, they aren’t yet, so consumers must get into the habit of changing default passwords quickly.

 

4. Will the device update itself?

The chances are that in the future, a cybercriminal will find a vulnerability that lets them compromise a new device. Check if the device you are planning to buy can be updated by the manufacturer.

 

5. Change your thought process.

The device might provide functionality that pre-dates the digital age – for example, baby monitors.  As a result, we’re not thinking about digital security.  We must all start to think about digital security, in the same way that we think about real world dangers, from the moment they buy a connected device. Consider the risks and how you can mitigate them.

 

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IS PRIVATE PLACEMENT LIFE INSURANCE THE PERFECT PRODUCT FOR GLOBAL HNW FAMILIES

INSURANCE

By Louis Zuckerbraun, Managing Director, GMG Insurance 

 

Everyone wants to know that their family will be okay after they die and will do whatever they can to ensure that. That’s as true for high net-worth individuals (HNWIs) as it is for anyone else. But in an age where families are spread across the globe, leaving the kind of legacy you want can be incredibly complicated.

One product that could make things a great deal more simple is Private Placement Life Insurance (PPLI).

Originally conceived in the US, PPLI is rapidly gaining traction across Europe. Not only is it more efficient than traditional forms of life insurance, allowing the investments within the policy to hold many more types of assets and asset classes, it can also be a useful way to overcome specific issues such as management and control, beneficial ownership and substance.

 

PPLI explained 

While PPLI is gaining popularity across the globe, it’s still a relatively unknown product set, even among the HNWIs it would most benefit. It’s therefore worth looking at exactly what PPLI is.

Effectively an investment wrapped inside an insurance policy, a PPLI policy’s cash value depends on the performance of the investments within it. These investments can include hedge funds, mutual funds, and other potentially lucrative assets. Ultimately, it’s down to the policyholder to choose what kinds of investment they’d most like to have, meaning that they have a lot more freedom than they would with an ordinary life insurance policy.

Depending on the jurisdiction, a PPLI policy can also provide significant tax savings. In the US, for instance, the Internal Revenue Code treats insurance differently than it does investments. So, by packing an otherwise taxable investment in a tax- free policy, investors can reap big rewards on the investment, as well as the death benefit, tax-free.

 

Going global 

But PPLI policies aren’t just beneficial from a tax perspective, they’re also useful for anyone with a global family.

A PPLI policy is generally by nature a globally focused vehicle. So, for instance, approved banking partners and advisors in Switzerland can work with US persons, to provide an investment vehicle that has a global focus.

The policy would purchase global funds and be managed by a global advisor who is outside the US but understands the US market. This makes it perfect for anyone who wants to diversify from traditional United States Dollar denominated investments but wants to maintain tax compliance and work with international advisors.

This solution works very well with a global family who may have, as an example, a child studying in London, or with international businesses, and who wish to build exposure globally in a tax efficient and US compliant manner.  An international PPLI policy would be very beneficial to the family.

Further, the policy can be denominated in Swiss Francs, US Dollars or Euros depending on the needs and strategies of the policy owners or beneficiaries and still pay tax efficiently to the US persons.

These features also mean that a PPLI policy can be a useful replacement for, or supplement to,  a family trust, especially if a tax authority is unlikely to accept the trustees as the legal owner of the assets held in the trust.

 

A clear choice 

With more and more families living in different geographies, a PPLI policy is therefore an option that should be playing a much bigger role in the mainstream. It provides an accepted and compliant solution to the planning challenges faced by ultra-high net worth and high net worth families.

While life insurance, in general, provides a mechanism for estate tax planning, asset protection and investment flexibility that cannot be beaten by any other compliant tool,  PPLI provides the flexibility and protection that informed high net worth families increasingly require.

If you’re looking a purchasing a PPLI policy, however, it must be managed by professional insurance and legal advisors who understand the product.

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Wealth Management

FIVE THINGS YOU’RE DOING THAT ARE INVALIDATING YOUR CAR INSURANCE

CAR INSURANCE

Car insurance is a legal requirement for motorists, but many drivers may be unknowingly voiding their policy.

Failing to update your circumstances or providing false information, whether intentionally or not, could lead to your insurer refusing to pay out or cancelling your policy. In the worst-case scenario, you may be liable to be prosecuted for fraud.

To help motorists avoid any issues with insurance, experts at online car parts provider CarParts4Less have outlined five common mistakes that can invalidate your policy.

  1. Car modifications

Nearly half (47%) of Brits have modified their car in some way, with over a third (37%) spending £500 or more souping up their motors*, but failing to notify your insurer about any changes to your vehicle could void your policy.

There are two ways that car modifications can affect your insurance premium: if they increase the likelihood of an accident (performance upgrades), or if they increase the likelihood of theft (cosmetic upgrades or tech add-ons, such as a soundsystem).

Always ensure that you inform your provider about any changes to the vehicle, as this will allow your insurer to assess the validity of your policy.

  1. ‘Fronting’ 

Insurance for young drivers often costs more than groups deemed less of a risk. One way some motorists try and get around the higher premiums is by having a low-risk driver, such as a parent or partner, named as the main policyholder and adding the real motorist as a named driver.

However, if you get caught ‘fronting’, as this tactic is known, your policy will immediately be cancelled, and any claims denied. These cases are often taken to court and are classed as insurance fraud, with outcomes including fines of up to £5,000 and six points on your license.

  1. Not updating your address

Car insurance premiums can vary depending on the postcode, as some areas have higher rates of thefts and break-ins. It can be tempting to put down your home address as somewhere different to where your car stays every night; for example, your parents’ house while you are at university. However, if you do so, your insurer can refuse to pay out for any claims made at your actual main living location.

Many companies have investigative departments (called a special investigations unit, or SUI) dedicated to making sure information on your insurance and claims is correct, so while you may think you can get away with not updating your address, you’ll likely be caught when you make a claim.

  1. Not reporting accidents

Many motorists don’t see the point of notifying their insurers about small bumps and scrapes. However, even if you don’t intend to claim, it is important to inform your insurance provider about any damage, as not doing so is a breach of your policy.

This protects you in the event that the other driver changes their mind and decides to claim. It also ensures damage is accounted for if you do need to claim for future incidents, as damage which is inconsistent with a claim may mean that you are denied.

  1. Commuting

There are three types of car usage that insurance covers: social only, social and commuting, and business

These different policies provide different extents of coverage, and using your car outside of this usage will mean that you’re unable to claim. For example, social usage does not cover your car when commuting, so you will be unable to claim for any incidents while travelling to or from work.

A CarParts4Less spokesperson said: “While it may be tempting to bend the rules to pay for a cheaper policy, it’s never worth it, and will often lead to you paying substantially more in the long run.

“It’s important to always read the terms and conditions of your car insurance policy, to ensure that you have not accidentally invalidated the policy. Keep your insurance provider up to date with any change of circumstances, regardless of whether or not you think it’s relevant. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

To find out how to legally reduce your car insurance costs, visit https://www.carparts4less.co.uk/blog/10-tips-to-reduce-your-car-insurance-premium

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