If you have a Smart Home and are concerned about keeping your various devices secure and private, today I have a few tips for you that should hopefully help with that goal. While it’s true that having connected devices creates more holes for cybercriminals to try and exploit in an attempt to steal your data, there are definitely some clever things that you can do to slam the door shut on cybercriminals. Read on for a few of our best tips and tricks for protecting your smart home and personal data.
Securing your smart home
Before we get into a number of useful suggestions to protect your smart home from all manner of thieves, scoundrels, hackers, and cybercriminals, it’s important to know what we’re all up against when we choose to use the Internet. Bad guys today have a number of sophisticated tricks and methods with which to attack us and our personal and private information as we sit safely (we think) in our own homes. These include such nefarious tricks as hacking into and hijacking our baby monitors and web cams to spy on us as we go about our daily lives.
Of course, the same bad guys use other, far less sophisticated means as well, such as phishing calls and e-mails to try and get us to willingly give up our credit card numbers and banking information. The things that these people will say are absolutely amazing—everything from posing as a relative who’s traveling and in trouble that needs some fast cash to warning us that there’s a warrant out for our arrest for being behind on our federal income taxes. The schemes and scams that these people employ are many and varied, and sadly they often work, but there are also many pertinent steps that we can all take to protect ourselves.
Routers are a very important part of smart home security. In fact, routers are the gateway into and out of our homes for all of our Internet connected devices. What this means is that routers provide users with a great opportunity to slam the door shut before cybercriminals can even get in. However, many of the routers supplied by Internet service providers are basic and may not have much, if any, security built in.
But there is something that you can do about that. For instance, you can (and should) get your own router independently, which allows you to seek one out that has an Internet firewall built in. A firewall, which is really just a software program, will enhance your home Wi-Fi network’s security by preventing unauthorized access into it, and, by extension, into and out of your various connected devices.
Strong encryption of your home Wi-Fi network is also possible with a high quality router. You may need to mess around a bit with your new router’s configuration and settings, but the effort will be well worth it in the end when all of the data coming in and going out of your home is securely encrypted. If you want to lock cybercriminals out at your home’s main point of online entry, having a good router with strong security is a must!
For more on router security, be sure to check out Brad Moon’s excellent article entitled A more secure smart home starts with a secure router.
Smart device setup
As I mentioned above, some connected devices are more attractive to hackers and cybercriminals than others, such as baby monitors and web cams. Such devises should never be placed anywhere where they might see into any part of your home that you expect to be private, such as your bathroom. Also note that webcams that are built into laptop computers are easily covered up when they’re not in use, whether by a special tool that’s designed to slip over the camera or a simple piece of opaque tape.
Smart speakers and voice assistants are also the frequent targets of hackers. This is because users tend to interact with these devices many times throughout the day, and we sometimes even provide sensitive information to them so they can assist us in activities like online shopping.
When setting up any new smart device, there’s usually an option to configure that device’s privacy settings according to your own needs. This is something you should definitely do if you think that the default settings don’t quite go far enough to protect you in your own unique circumstances. Each device that you buy will have to be evaluated separately, and you are always free to check on and modify any of the default settings as needed.
Also remember that not all smart home products are created equally, and each different smart home product manufacturer has its own priorities and parameters when it comes to cyber security. Some devices, such as those from well established manufacturers that have a reputation to uphold, are more likely to provide tough security features and ongoing support and software updates over time that will help to ensure their continued security.
And of course, different kinds of smart home products also have different strengths and weaknesses. For instance, if you use smart lighting and smart plugs in your home, always set them up with the strongest possible security, and be wary of really low-cost brands. Keep in mind that these devices will access your home’s Wi-Fi network, so you don’t want to have products in your home that give the bad guys easy access.
Always heed any update warnings from manufacturers as well! And keep in mind that if you do buy a smart home device from some Johnny-come-lately company that may be here today and gone tomorrow, you could be taking a risk. Remember, large, well established brand name devices are continuously tested by researchers and scrutinized for potential security holes—a fact that should offer tremendous peace of mind to consumers.
Of course, every smart home company has to start somewhere, so I don’t wish to discourage all buying from startups. All of the top smart home companies in operation today were once brand new in the market.
And then there is the little matter of each separate device’s individual password…
Creating secure passwords
To keep your home Wi-Fi network safe and secure—as well as the various devices that will connect to the Internet through it, it is imperative that you create strong passwords. After all, protecting your home Wi-Fi network and various connected devices is no different than protecting your banking information. In both cases it’s vital to create and maintain strong passwords to avoid potential breeches that could lead to the loss of vital personal information, or worse.
This is why we must all follow a few basic common sense guidelines when creating our various passwords. For instance, we must endeavour to make them as unique as possible—not using any words or dates that have any personal relevance (such as one’s birthday or wedding anniversary). Try coming up with a jumbled up mix of seemingly nonsensical characters and character types (capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols such as these: !@#$%^&*) that won’t mean anything to anyone else, but that you are able to remember.
Also remember to change your passwords frequently (every 3-6 month is a good idea), and, if you must write them down, store them in a location that’s both secure from other people and easy for you to access. A notebook that you keep locked away is one option, as is a password managing program that many computers today have built right in. Apple’s Safari browser, for instance, not only records and keeps track of all of one’s passwords to secure websites, but it also suggests new (and extremely secure) passwords for you.
The bottom line here is that Smart Home privacy and security are the responsibility of each and every user of connected devices. Remember to do your part to lock the bad guys out, and you’re sure to avoid a whole lot of trouble.