A smart home can be a lot of fun, save you a ton of time, and make life easier. But for all the conveniences that come from having a smart home, it can also cause major headaches and serious problems by making you more vulnerable to cybercriminals. It’s important to take steps to protect yourself.
Whether you own a house or rent an apartment, building a smart home is easier than it has ever been. Homeowners and renters can purchase kits that integrate specific smart items, or they can select smart home products, such as light bulbs, crockpots, coffee makers, thermostats, vacuums, ovens, doorbells, mailboxes, window shades, and security cameras.
After downloading the appropriate apps, anyone can connect practically anything through a Wi-Fi network. (1, 2) And smart digital assistants (SDAs), such as Siri and Alexa, serve as handy commanders of the smart home.
The trend has become so popular that analysts estimated that by the end of 2018, SDAs would be active in almost one-half of American homes. In the past couple of years, you’ve probably noticed that among higher-income households, we’ve likely met or exceeded that estimate. (3)
These devices won’t take down the holiday decorations, but they will instruct the dishwasher to wash the dishes, tell the sound system what you want to hear, and inform the smart feeder it’s time for Fido’s supper. If you’re a road warrior, you can even connect your automobile. And if you work long hours, you can connect your office, too. (4)
Smart features, devices, and integrated systems can save you a ton of time and make life a whole lot easier. But if we’re not careful, they can also cause major headaches, lead to serious problems by opening up our homes, infiltrating our privacy, and making us vulnerable to cybercriminals. So if you want to take advantage of the ease and convenience digital assistance brings, it’s essential that you learn how to keep your smart home safe from cyber attacks.
While smart homes offer tremendous convenience – and can be a lot of fun – they also have the potential to make Americans vulnerable to cybercrime. According to research published by ScienceDirect, security experts anticipate smart homes will become targets for cybercriminals because they are easy to infiltrate. (5) For example, hackers could:
• Access your smart thermostat and determine when you’re on vacation (8)
• Retrieve information (passwords and financial or personal data) shared through a digital assistant (6)
• Unlock your smart door with no sign of forced entry (7)
• Hijack security cameras to spy on your home (7)
Just about everything in a smart home can be hacked, and criminals try all the time. Norton reported, “At times of peak activity, the average IoT [Internet of Things] device was attacked once every two minutes, according to the 2017 Internet Security Threat Report, published by Symantec.” (6)
Those are scary stats, and it just goes to show you how critical security measures are to keep you safe.
Securing your smart home
When building a smart home, you must look beyond cutting-edge gadgetry and give security systems serious thought. Here are tips for securing your smart home.
Build a strong foundation
Your router is the front door to your smart home. You can think of it as your smart home’s foundational item, which is why it’s critical that the security on your router is reliable and equipped with strong locks.
The router connects all of your devices to the Internet. When you move money from one account to another using a home computer or smartphone, the data flows through your router. When you stream shows and movies, this data also flows through your router. You can’t afford to ignore it. (6)
The first thing to do is to make sure your router is encrypting data. Norton suggests selecting Wi-Fi Protected Access 2, or a WPA2, to protect your data. Choose a router that supports WPA2, and then take a few extra minutes to set it up. (6)
Consumer Reports suggests several steps that can help keep data private. First, ensure your router software is up-to-date. Second, choose strong passwords. Typically, routers will have two passwords—one to control the router’s settings and a second one to provide access to smart devices. Third, turn off any router features you don’t use. (4)
Set your network to private
You should also be sure to set your network to private. Smart devices have default settings. Some devices default to optimize privacy and security, while others do not. Instead of assuming manufacturers have your best interests in mind, review the privacy settings for devices as you connect them. (6)
If the app for your smart device offers two-factor authentication (2FA), use it. With two-factor authentication in place, you will have to log in and then confirm your login by entering a code sent via text or email to make any changes within the app. If you got a code and didn’t try to log in, that lets you know someone is trying to access your system. (6)
Give guests a network of their own
If you have a smart home, Norton suggests setting up a separate network for visitors. This is not because you don’t trust your friends, family, or neighbors. The problem is, you cannot be sure whether someone else’s devices are secure. If they were to log onto your main network with a device that isn’t secure, that puts your network and every device at risk. (6)
Upgrade your devices
Make sure you are running the latest version of every app or software you’re using. As technology is continuously evolving, hackers are constantly looking for and creating new vulnerabilities. So an older device or older version is always going to be less secure than the latest. (6)
Prepare for a power outage
Many smart devices work when the power goes out. Make sure you know which of yours will and which won’t. For example, did your smart thermostat or smart door lock come with regular or rechargeable batteries or some other type of backup? (8)
It’s particularly important to understand how your home security system will respond to power outages. Systems that rely on Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and the Internet must have online connections, or they don’t work. Your security cameras may also have issues during power outages, although a battery bank backup could solve the problem. (8)
Don’t let the excitement of building a smart home cause you to lose sight of the importance of home security. When your household devices communicate with one another, keeping your data safe presents a whole new set of challenges you need to be ready to meet.
5 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877050915030318?via%3Dihub (or go to https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/peakcontent/Peak+Documents/Feb_2019_ScienceDirect-Cyber_Security_Challenges_within_the_Connected_Home_Ecosystem_Futures-Footnote_5.pdf)
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.