Smart home devices are gaining popularity, with the global market for these devices expected to grow by almost 27% in 2019. However, smart home and Internet of Things (IoT) devices have glaring security flaws that could put consumers at risk. Is your smart home safe?
If you have to ask, it isn’t. Hackers can hijack your smart fridge, baby monitor, webcam, printer, streaming device, or other IoT gadget and use it to help conduct a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. They can use your IoT devices to send spam emails; to access your home network and steal personal info from your smartphones, tablets, and laptops; or, perhaps most terrifyingly, they can hack into your network and facilitate a home invasion by unlocking your smart locks. They could even hijack your vehicle remotely – unless you follow these steps to protect yourself.
Lock Down Your Network
The first thing you should do to protect your IoT devices from hackers is to secure your home wireless network. If you’re using a wireless gateway from your internet service provider (ISP), that needs to change. Why? Because chances are you’re going to use that same appliance for years and years without swapping it out or updating it, and using an outdated device makes you more vulnerable to hackers, because it may not get the firmware updates it needs to stay safe. Besides, you’ll save money in the long run by buying your own gateway; even if you bought a new one every year, it would likely be cheaper than paying your ISP a monthly rental fee to use theirs.
Once you have your new gateway, make sure you’re using the most secure wifi protocol, currently WPA2. Give your wireless network a name that doesn’t include any personal information, so that hackers can’t use it as fodder for a social engineering attack. Change your network password from the default to a new, strong password. Finally, put up a firewall to protect your network from incoming connection attempts.
Even after you’ve taken all these steps to secure your network, be careful who you share your network login info with. Sure, you might be smart about online security, but are your kids? What about their friends? What about your mother-in-law? You can probably trust your houseguests not to try to hack your network themselves, but you never know whose devices have been compromised. If you must offer wireless access to guests, set up a separate network for them.
Quarantine Your Devices
It’s a good idea to have at least two wireless networks in your home – one for your smartphone, laptops, desktops, and tablets, and one for everything else. That way, your smart fridge, streaming devices, smart lights, robot vacuum, thermostat, smart locks, and intelligent cat flap have the internet connection they need, but if hackers are able to exploit a security flaw in one of these devices, the joke will be on them – they won’t be breaking into the same room where you keep the important stuff, so to speak.
Change Your Login Info
Every smart device you buy will come with default administrative login info, and you should change the usernames and passwords for every single one, from your gateway to your fridge (and, yes, the cat flap, too). Hackers can find this default info online pretty easily, so by not changing it, you’re pretty much inviting them in.
Use Security Software
Hackers might not be driving up and down your suburban streets looking for unsecure devices so they can hack into residential networks, but they’re for sure sending out spam emails or constructing malware in the hopes of snagging some valuable personal information. Purchase and install a comprehensive home network security solution that will filter out spam emails and phishing scams, protect your network from malware, and allow you to easily set up parental controls and firewalls on your network.
Cyber criminals are constantly looking for weaknesses to exploit in your devices’ operating systems, and manufacturers are also working hard to keep up with them by releasing regular patches to correct those flaws, hopefully before hackers can find them on your particular system. That’s why it’s so important to always install updates on your tablets, smartphones, and computers. If you use a smart home device manager app to control all your devices from one location, make sure you hang onto the original device apps, because they’re usually necessary for downloading firmware updates to these gadgets.
IoT devices can make daily life easier and more comfortable than ever, but you need to be aware of their security flaws. When you take steps to keep hackers from taking advantage of flaws in your devices, you can spend less time worrying about cyber attacks and much, much more time enjoying your new techno-toys.