He said that criminals were poised to take advantage of flaws in online security and suggested all new appliances, capable of being hooked up to the internet, should carry a kitemark rating showing how secure they were.
It comes after leaked documents showed that British spy agencies worked with the CIA to turn Samsung televisions and smartphones into bugging devices that can record conversations and even take photographs.
In March, the CIA was accused of running a secret computer hacking programme giving its agents access to everyday items including mobile phones, televisions and iPads, fuelling fears among consumers that their gadgets could be used to spy on them.
Mr Barton said while there were many positive benefits to technology, it was vital online security was at the centre of any developments to prevent the online crime epidemic spreading even further.
He said: “It’s not just that they [cyber-criminals] are going to get into your fridge and find out how many yoghurts you eat a week. The fact is that your ‘internet of things’ are all plugged into the same network and that provides the criminal with a back door into your network.
“The more you connect up your devices, the more you give people the opportunity to invade and the more there is a very real challenge to your security.”
Mr Barton’s warning comes as the Government announced plans to allow technology firms, such as Google and Amazon, to enter the energy market. Ofgem, the energy regulator, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said that they would relax rules which prohibit any firms other than dedicated energy companies from providing gas and electric to British homes.
The scheme is designed to save billions in electricity bills – by allowing tech firms to “disrupt the market” and offer “time of day tariffs” which would reward homeowners for turning appliances off at peak times. But, as it would be heavily-reliant on internet-connected meters which provide real-time information about energy use, the scheme is likely to raise further questions on privacy and data security amid concern thatthe smart meters could be hacked.
Online fraud is already the most common crime in the country with almost one in ten people falling victim. More than five and a half million cyber-offences are thought to take place in Britain each year, accounting for almost half of all recorded crime in the country. But only a fraction of offences are reported to the police because victims often feel too embarrassed or believe little can be done to catch those responsible.
Mr Barton explained that the fear around the “internet of things” stemmed from the fact that household appliances may often be linked to bank details – for example fridges which can automatically order shopping online when it is required.
He also explained that, as most modern televisions and computers are fitted with cameras, there is concern that criminals might even be able to spy on people in their own homes. Mr Barton said the Government should also put pressure on the technology industry to ensure that new cutting edge devices were also secure.
He added: “Whenever you go into a store now you see fridges with AAA down to F ratings in terms of its energy efficiency, where are the security ratings? We just don’t know what the security is like on the devices we are buying on the ‘internet of things’, yet that is the most significant component of what you are buying. Why if it is digitally enabled are we not assessing the device on its internet security?”
He said the role of the police was to prevent crime before it happened and he called on the technology industry to play its part by making it harder for hackers to break into networks.
He said: “I think it is incumbent on the industry that has the money. They have eye-watering profits. Why don’t they lead the way?”
If all new devices sold were to carry a security rating, consumers would be more informed in terms of how best to protect themselves online , he said. Plans by Ofgem to relax the rules in order to let tech firms introduce new “smart” tariffs will require millions of homes to be fitted with internet-connected meters.
These will transmit information about when a household uses most energy to suppliers, giving them the power to increase bills at busy times.
Andy Burgess, an associate partner at the energy regulator, told The Daily Telegraph: “We want time-of-day tariffs to be commonplace by 2020. We will make this happen by letting other types of firms, for example technology companies like Google or Amazon, to enter the sector and innovate. If they introduce time of day tariffs then Big Six energy companies will either have to change to keep up, or lose money.”
Greg Clark, the Business and Energy Secretary, added: “Upgrading our energy system to make sure it is fit for the future is a key part of our Industrial Strategy to deliver a smarter, more flexible energy system.”