Now that your home is getting smarter, with internet-connected heating and cooling, webcams to check on the baby and babysitter, lock or unlock your door remotely, it’s more important than ever to keep hackers out.
These tips will help keep the digital version of breaking-and-entering from creating mayhem, even endangering the health and safety of you and your family. Or, you could be blackmailed by a hacker who has locked you out or turned off the electricity.
If forecasts and research firms have it right, just about everything in your home might soon be connected to the internet, from your fridge to your coffee maker, your door lock, and maybe even your toilet. Several of your appliances might already be online. While the Internet of Things (IoT) is supposed to bring comfort, efficiency, and energy savings to your home, it is also creating new opportunities for hackers to exploit.
Simply – according to the experts at The Daily Dot – IoT security is not as smart as the smart devices installed in homes. Just remember last fall, when a hack attack shut down major websites in the USA via an IoT botnet, an army of compromised internet-connected devices doing the bidding of a hacker warlord.
These simple – and common sense – tips can prevent your smart home from turning against you or other people.
Internet-connected devices usually have default passwords. Unfortunately many users don’t bother to change those factory settings, making those devices easily accessible to hackers. According to The Daily Dot, devices with default passwords were the single largest contributor to the Mirai botnet, which was responsible for the October DDoS attack.
Since it’s easy for hackers to find smart home devices on the internet, your first line of defense should be to change the default passwords for any new device you connect to the internet.
Also, every connected device has an ID that can be easily viewed by anyone who finds access to the device’s network (anyone with a smartphone, in most cases), often including the manufacturer’s name and type of device. So, you should also change the product name to something nonsensical that only you can understand, to make it that much harder for hackers to profile your network.
Updates fix bugs, including those described as “exploitable vulnerabilities”. Just as you update your desktop, laptop and phone operating systems, and other software you use regularly, you should make it a habit to update your smart home devices.
As with every other connected device in your life, some software updates automatically while others require you to click on an update alert and do it manually. Make sure you know how your nanny-cam or talking refrigerator handles updates so you don’t miss one.
Assume that your IoT devices will get compromised eventually, and some hacker will manage to get control of one of your growing number of smart home gadgets before you update and patch the latest vulnerability.
You can prevent the hack – or virus – from spreading to other critical devices such as your laptop or printer. Most home routers have a guest network option, which you can use to isolate your devices and prevent a compromised device to find full access to your home network. Connect all your smart devices to the guest network while keeping your critical devices, like your phones and laptops, on the primary option. And make sure both primary and guest options require a log-in, and make the two passwords to log-in different.
Many devices feature different connectivity options, such as ethernet and Wi-Fi. It’s always a good security practice to disable the one you’re not using in order to minimize the attack surface. Preferably, opt for a wired connection over a wireless one, because it is harder to compromise.
Also, some devices don’t necessarily require an internet connection to function, so if you’re not interested in your device connecting to the manufacturer’s cloud for performance monitoring, you can simply disable its internet connectivity. This will lessen the possibility of a remote hack on your device.
Many devices come with a built-in camera and microphone, and those are among hackers’ favorite exploitable features. So if it isn’t relevant to your needs, disable those functions. If the device does not have a “disable camera” feature, simply block it as you do with your laptop or desktop webcam, or turn it to face the wall.
Most home routers have a built-in firewall to protect your network against intruders and block access to unused ports. If you haven’t activated it, do it now. That’s because – as opposed to your laptop – smart home gadgets don’t have firewall or anti-malware or other endpoint protection solutions. That makes them more vulnerable to hackers.
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) can add a layer of security and privacy to both your home network and your smart gadgets. VPNs encrypt all incoming and outgoing traffic. That includes cloaking your physical location and life patterns, which eavesdroppers can deduce by simply monitoring your network data.
Another good option is to use smart home protection devices, which use sophisticated and innovative techniques to detect and block intrusion.
The bottom line
Internet security – in our connected vehicles, in our homes and in every aspect of our lives – will continue to grow in importance as we get more and more connected. Still, you are responsible for your own safety and that of your family, online and off.