It didn’t take long for digital technologies to transform the living space into smart homes. Over sixty million US households use at least one smart device, like Amazon Alexa or Google Nest thermostat. As comfortable as Internet of Things (IoT) devices are, at the same time, they pose serious security challenges.
Smart home hacking incidents are particularly troubling as criminals can access most private spaces remotely. Luckily, you can secure your home network using specialized cybersecurity software and a few tricks every smart homeowner should apply.
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Are smart homes secure?
Sadly, IoT devices are popular hacking targets. They lack the computational power to have sophisticated in-built protection tools and provide easy access to home computer networks. Furthermore, some manufacturers sacrifice pricey cybersecurity programs to reduce manufacturing costs, putting your smart home at risk.
The incidents are chilling. One occasion, criminals hacked a smart baby cam and taunted the child and the parents. Another time hackers remotely ramped the smart home’s heat to 90F(32C) and played offensive music to the unfortunate couple.
Adding security is essential if you connect IoT devices to your home computer network. Here are four things you should do right now to stay safe.
1. Secure router
The router is the gateway to the Internet that handles all incoming and outgoing data traffic. If a criminal succeeds at hacking your router, they can monitor all online activities and infect devices connected to it.
To secure your router, first change the default password. Don’t use primitive passwords like ‘qwerty123’ or include personal details like name or address. Your password should consist of random letters, numbers, and symbols.
Fully-developed modern routers support encryption that protects your online data from surveillance. Go through your router settings and ensure the ‘WPA2’ feature is turned on. Additionally, you can install a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on a router to apply even stronger encryption algorithms and obfuscate the original IP address for privacy protection.
2. Password management
Password hacking is extremely common when it comes to IoT devices. Users often connect these gadgets to their home network without thinking twice and changing the default password. Criminals use brute force and password dumping methods to gain unauthorized access to IoT devices and intrude into home networks via them.
Instead of reusing the same simple password for all devices, it’s best to trust them with a password manager. This cybersecurity tool stores dozens of unique passwords in an encrypted vault, accessible only by the owner. This way, you can assign a strong password to each connected IoT device, preventing password-hacking techniques.
3. Privacy protection
The two biggest smart device manufacturers – Amazon and Google – aren’t known for their privacy-friendly policies. On the contrary, these companies extract as much user data as possible. An investigative piece by PCMag reveals how Amazon Alexa and Samsung Bixby collect outstanding amounts of information and send it to their servers.
As dystopian as it sounds, these devices listen to and store your conversations. The gathered information is used in large databases to construct user profiles. Often it’s used by data brokers that sell user data to marketing agencies to personalize ad targeting. However, you can never know whom the data ends up with. Hackers often use databases with personally identifiable information for Phishing campaigns and social engineering attacks.
You are risking your privacy if you use these device’s free. It’s best to review their data collection protocols before activating them in your living room and go through privacy settings. Wherever possible, turn off data sharing.
4. Universal Plug and Play (UPnP)
UPnP is a feature that allows devices on your network to automatically discover and configure other devices without the need for manual setup. While UPnP can provide convenience in device connectivity, it also poses potential security risks, making it advisable to disable UPnP on your router unless absolutely necessary.
When UPnP is enabled, unauthorized devices or applications can easily open ports on your router, bypassing your network’s firewall and exposing your smart home devices to potential vulnerabilities. This can lead to unauthorized access, data breaches, or even compromise your network entirely.
To mitigate these risks, access your router’s settings and disable UPnP. By doing so, you control the devices and applications that can access your network, reducing the chances of unauthorized access.
5. Guest network
Creating a guest network for your IoT devices is a proactive measure that can significantly enhance the security of your smart home. By setting up a separate network specifically for these devices, you can isolate them from your main network and minimize the potential risks associated with their connectivity.
If your router supports it, take advantage of the guest network feature. This feature allows you to create a segregated network that functions independently from your primary network, typically providing limited access to resources and devices. Connecting your IoT devices to the guest network establishes a clear boundary between them and your personal data, computers, and other devices.
Should an IoT device become compromised through a vulnerability or an external attack, the isolation provided by the guest network ensures that the attacker’s access is restricted to that specific network. They won’t have direct access to your main network, where your personal information and critical devices reside.
6. Apply updates
Manufacturers that notice a bug in their devices quickly patch them up and issue a speedy update. If you don’t apply these updates ASAP, you will leave your smart home open for exploitation. Criminals use advanced software like the SHODAN search engine to find vulnerable devices and attack them.
As a savvy homeowner, you should ensure your router, operating system, cybersecurity software, and IoT devices are updated to the latest version.
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IoT devices are designed to maximize comfort but shouldn’t be at security’s expense. Our recommended steps are easy to implement and protect your home network from the most common cyber threats. Follow them to make your home just as secure as it is smart.