By: Krystal Rogers-Nelson
Smart home devices like connected thermostats, smartbulbs, and smart hubs equipped with virtual assistants can make our connected homes more efficient and convenient. However, these same innovations also pose security risks. A recent study discovered it took an average of thirty minutes to hack and find passwords for most smart home devices:
“Using these devices in our lab, we were able to play loud music through a baby monitor, turn off a thermostat and turn on a camera remotely, much to the concern of our researchers who themselves use these products,” says Dr. Yossi Oren, a member of the Cyber Security Research Center at Ben-Gurion University.
Moreover, it’s not just someone hacking into your home that you should worry about. Recent large-scale cyberattacks have demonstrated how a vast network of connected smart devices can be commandeered as part of the Internet of Things (IoT) to cripple websites and cause chaos online. How do you ensure that your dream smart home of the future remains safe from cyberthreats and hackers? You can use the following tips to assess the risk your smart devices pose and help prevent the IoT network in your home from getting hijacked.
Start with Securing Your Router
Your Wi-Fi is the port of entry for most hackers, so if you want to protect your smart devices, securing your router is an excellent place to start. Change the credentials from the router’s default ones if you haven’t yet, and make sure the password is a strong one. Although most modern routers automatically update when connected to the internet, double-check for the latest security updates from the manufacturer.
You should also review the devices listed as connected on your router and make sure nothing suspicious is hitching a ride. Many routers allow you to set up multiple networks, so take the extra security step of isolating your smart devices on a different Wi-Fi network from your computer or smartphone.
Inventory All Your IoT Devices
It’s easy to forget how many devices you have, so take a walk through your home and make sure you’ve accounted for every connected gadget. You may have overlooked things like smart speakers in your living room tucked behind a plant or smart lighting in your hallways. Even things like baby monitors and thermostats are often connected devices that open you to a greater risk of hacking. It’s also advisable to remove devices that don’t have to be connected to the internet like smart TVs or gaming consoles. Just because an electronic gadget has smart capabilities doesn’t mean it makes sense to have it constantly connected to the Wi-Fi.
Check for Smart Home Device Updates
If your devices have access to the internet, make sure they update automatically so they always have the latest software installed. When there is a known vulnerability, developers issue an update to close the security loophole so you aren’t left exposed. Investing in devices from well-known brands helps since these companies are more likely to create security fixes and have the resources to issue frequent updates. Experts also advise not purchasing smart home devices secondhand – they might have hidden software bugs designed to infiltrate your network.
Change Your Usernames and Passwords
Alarmingly, many homeowners don’t change the default passwords for their IoT devices. And even if you’ve already personalized your settings, you should still change usernames and passwords periodically. If you want, you can set up two-step authentication on some devices and accounts as an additional security measure. This step can be especially important for things like smart home hubs that have purchasing power. Remember to also change the passwords on your smartphone if you control your connected devices through mobile apps.
Don’t Forget Your Home Security System
When you’re going through your IoT inventory and checking it twice for hackable devices, remember that your home security systems are just as vulnerable as your other smart devices. Most modern home security systems have a smartphone app for you to access them remotely, making them a target for hackers. A technologically savvy intruder could hack and deactivate your alarm then breach the perimeter without being detected. Pay close attention to security devices like cameras and smart locks to make sure they have all the proper safeguards in place.
Pay Attention to Who is Listening (and Watching)
Lots of smart hubs like Amazon Echo or Google Home have built-in microphones that are always listening so their virtual assistants can respond to voice commands. As you might expect, this feature is a double-edged sword that opens you up to surveillance if the device isn’t secure. To make sure you are in control of your devices, learn how to disable their microphones when you need more privacy. Since most smart hubs control multiple devices, any of their flaws can make your entire smart home network vulnerable.
Consider a Smart Firewall
Any home connected to the internet should be protected by a firewall, but you can also get malware protection or smart firewalls specifically designed to protect IoT devices. Firewalls allow traffic to and from the internet on only specific ports and via identified IP addresses, effectively closing off your network from hacking attempts and discouraging any nefarious probing. Experts advise investing in firewalls because so many manufacturers that produce electronics with smart capabilities have not yet been consistent about addressing security issues. As connected homes grow more complex, you’ll need to continue making smart choices about how to keep your devices secure.