Smart clothes is a new trend in the modern fashion industry, where creative geniuses of designers and data scientists come together to produce a hybrid product, which is (i) a functional and comfortable piece of clothing on the one hand and (ii) a wearable devise on the other hand. If you think that I describe some fantasy objects from a futuristic world, think again: many items, which could be classified as smart clothes have not only been developed and mass-produced, but have also been on the market for quite a while. All these items collect data about individuals and interact with the environment, but above everything else, they provide unique customer experience, which makes them desirable and appealing to large segments of consumers (especially in the high-to-middle income and younger age groups). So, what do these mysterious items of smart clothes do and who makes them?
1. Clothes mimicking the smartphone functionality: When Google initially presented their idea to enhance clothing with hardware in a Project Jacquard in 2015, few people believed that this idea will ever reach the mass customer. Today, the Commuter x Jacquard - a smart denim jacket is available from Levi's and is a result of collaboration between Levi and Google. The jacket connects to the Jacquard app and allows the jacket's owner to connect to Google assistant, receive reminders if they leave either the phone or the jacket behind, take photos at distance using gestures, listen to the music, and even receive navigation instructions to get from point A to point B. The communication between the jacket and the smart phone is achieved using the Bluetooth technology (which kind of makes many of us wonder why instead of the boring proximity apps we are not provided with sets of free "smart clothing", that would use the same Bluetooth technology to alert us, say, by changing colour, if we come too close to a high-risk person or compromise the rules of the quarantine during the COVID19 outbreak).
2. Clothes that acts as a sensorial personal trainer: In this domain, several products have been developed from socks to whole clothes ranges. For example, Sensoria Fitness Socks with the help of sophisticated textile sensor technology monitor ways in which a foot lands when in motion (during running or walking). Through a connected app, the customers receive feedback about how to improve their running or walking, the distance they have covered, speed, as well as other parameters. Nadi X Yoga fitness pants also uses sensor technology to track the body positioning during yoga and not only inform the customer how to improve their yoga pose through the connected app, but also generate gentle vibrations on the body part, which needs to be adjusted to achieve the perfect pose. Under Armour created a whole range of sports clothing in the Athlete Recovery range, which uses bio-ceramic print technology on the underside of the clothing item in order to absorb the body heat from the customer and then reflect it back to his or her skin.
3. Clothes working with imagery and video content: The Spectacles 2 range by Snapchat takes images, videos and shares them in real time. These sunglasses come in a wide range of designs and colours, aiming to make small built-in cameras discrete.
4. Clothes which gamifies location tracking: The Tommy Jeans Xplore range incorporates over 20 items of smart clothing. The accompanying app encourages customers to take part in location-based games in exchange for mobility points, which can then be exchanged for various Tommy's rewards: e.g., promotions and discounts
5. Clothes integrated with the smart house systems: In 2017, researchers at the University of Washington developed a smart fabric, allowing to store and verify the identity of its owner. This was achieved by using the sewing machines to create magnetic embroidery and use it to open doors by swiping the shirt cuff. Very convenient if you lost your keys or locked yourself out!
6. Clothes which look after your lifestyle: In 2016, Samsung presented its Smart Suit and sports gear, which aimed at tracking the consumers' activity level. In 2015, Intel also came up with the smart shirt button, which tracked human mobility.
Cyberthreats of smart clothing
Essentially, smart clothes represent a new generation of wearables and, therefore, suffer from the same issues as their "traditional" counterparts, like FitBit or Apple Watch. In a way smart clothing makes the phrase "Tell me what you wear and I will tell you who you are" take a completely new meaning as smart clothes know a lot about you and transmits a lot of your personal data in the real time. So what are the actual cybersecurity risks associated with smart clothes?
a. Signal interference: Adversaries can hijack the feed between the item of smart clothing and the customer's smart phone. Naturally, if the smart phone is connected to further sensitive data (e.g., if an employee's smartphone is integrated with the company's systems), cybercriminals may gain a significant amount of valuable data.
b. Personal data theft: Through the wearable device hijacking, adversaries may also target individuals. For example, location data can say a lot about you; and to cybercriminals this is a tradable assets, which could be held and released in exchange for ransom (typical example is, of course, infidelity - one can imagine that adversaries may obtain significant ransoms from adulterers).
c. Encryption and authentication issues: Smart clothes (as we know them today) do not incorporate multi-factor authentication measures and tend to use "spotty" encryption.
d. Commercial espionage: Adversaries may use unsuspecting citizens to obtain valuable business information or even consumer data through smart clothes.
e. Negative psychological effects: Cyber risks associated with wearable devices are a major item of concern for many people in different countries. They perceive cybersecurity risks from wearables as high. Therefore, wearing smart clothes or being surrounded by people who wear such clothes may be a cause of concern to many people, especially to those who are careful about sharing their personal data. This, in turn, may lead to negative first and second-order psychological effects.
Smart clothes is a new an interesting development which, on the one hand, offers customer experience, unlike anything else on the market. At the same time, there are a significant number of cybersecurity risks associated with such clothes. The possible solutions to the problems associated with smart clothes include: (i) behaviourally segment customers, allowing them to select their own security level; (ii) use robust encryption tools (e.g., encrypt critical data as the first priority of the system) especially when Bluetooth technology is employed; (iii) integrate smart clothes with strong cloud security systems; and (iv) design the remote erase feature, so that customers could delete personal data remotely to protect themselves as well as other people and organisations from personal or corporate data theft.