Smart Tips to Secure Your Smart Home
Smart homes are a hot topic in the world of real estate and home improvement—and with good reason. A house full of internet-connected appliances—ranging from thermostats to ceiling fans—controlled remotely via smartphone or computer can bring excitement, ease, and peace of mind to your day-to-day routine. Identify any home appliance, and there’s probably a smart version of it. These gadgets are part of the fast-growing, worldwide Internet of Things (IoT) — a network that already includes more than 8 billion connected devices and may exceed 20 billion by 2020.
The benefits of such connectivity range from customization and convenience to energy efficiency and improved security. Smart technology allows your appliances to do things that their “dumb” equivalents simply can’t:
- Customize your lighting right from your smartphone with smart lightbulbs. Turn lights on and off, change the color, and set timers on the fly using a connected app. These bulbs also increase home safety and decrease energy use.
- A smart thermostat learns your temperature preferences and automatically adjusts itself so that your home remains comfortable while using the least possible amount of energy. Like most smart gadgets, this can be adjusted from anywhere via a smartphone app.
- With a smart camera, record high-resolution security video and upload it automatically to the cloud for remote viewing. These devices also alert you if motion is detected, and they allow you to communicate with anyone who may be in the room.
Connectivity vs. Security
Of course, this exciting technology comes with a drawback. Any device that is connected to the internet is a potential avenue of attack for a smart cybercriminal. Your wireless gadgets operate by connecting to the internet through your home Wi-Fi, which makes them vulnerable to hacking. That goes for your laptop, your smartphone, and yes, your smart door locks and even your security system.
You might expect that with all the major data breaches and news about cybercrime in the last several years, security would be a top priority for manufacturers of any connected devices. The reality is that security is often an afterthought when it comes to smart home tech. Many of these devices come packed with vulnerabilities that a hacker could exploit, and there is often no way of having those vulnerabilities patched short of buying a whole new device.
A hacker could gain access to your home network by exploiting a vulnerability in a smart thermostat or door lock. That access could let them infect every device connected to the network with malware, or even take control of the devices themselves. For example, security cameras can be hacked, and the footage can be broadcast around the world—in fact, people often pay money to view streams from victims of this crime. Criminals can also use the footage to stake out a home for a future burglary by learning when you come and go.
A stranger accessing your network without your knowledge also puts you at risk for identity theft. If a hacker can crack into one device and then use that network connection to get into your smartphone or computer, the results can be disastrous. Identity theft is much more common than many realize, and you don’t want to leave anything to chance.
Protect Your Home, Step by Step
So, what can you do? Should you just shun all smart home devices? Of course not. But you can—and should—put a few security best practices into place. Here are some steps you can take to safeguard your smart home and prevent ID theft:
- Use strong passwords. It is never a good idea to use the default password on any device. In fact, the first thing you should do with a new device is reset and customize all defaults. Use a strong password with a mix of numbers, symbols, and letters, and avoid using the same password on more than one device or service if possible.
- Protect your Wi-Fi. Good network security practices don’t require a degree in computer science. First, secure your router’s admin account with a strong password. The procedure varies between models, but the manual for your router should offer instructions. Second, set your network to use strong encryption. WPA2 encryption is best if your router is new enough to support it.
- Update your devices. Keep your wireless router, computers, smartphones, and any smart devices updated. Yes, this can be annoying, but there is a reason companies put out these updates in the first place, and that reason is usually security-related. If the device manufacturer has discovered a security hole, you can bet hackers have discovered it, too. Not updating the device leaves that hole wide open. If your devices don’t offer security updates, you may want to consider replacing them for ones that do.
- Consider Identity Theft Protection. As an added layer or protection, you may want to invest in an identity theft protection service. These services monitor your credit reports and social security number and alert you when suspicious activity is detected. You should check on these things yourself periodically using the multitude of free tools and reports available, but these paid services can help streamline the process to ensure maximum security.
In a world of ever-growing networks and evolving technology, it’s important to protect yourself and your connected devices. Stay vigilant, implement any and all recommended updates to hardware and software, and be smart about creating your smart home.
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