New smart devices arrive on the scene every day, with speculation that 24 billion gadgets will make up the internet of things by 2020. Those “things” are made up of the tech that powers our smart homes, from lights to locks, and their growing number has made them a tempting target for hackers.
While hackers aren’t very interested in what time your smart lights turn on and off, they can cause a lot of trouble using your connected devices. Last year we saw a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack in which hackers sent so much traffic to internet service providers that it caused a major internet outage, taking down services like Netflix and Spotify. DDoS attacks are nothing new, but in this case the hackers made their attacks using the internet of things—in particular, connected security cameras.
It’s relatively easy for hackers to attack smart home devices because many of them aren’t secure. And while last year’s attack only took out a streaming music service, the next attack on unsecured connected tech could cause a DDoS that shuts down credit card servers or spies through your smart camera and steals your personal data.
Fortunately, there’s an easy answer: secure your connected gadgets. Digital security can be complicated, but if you follow a few simple rules, you can keep your smart tech secure. Here are our top tips.
1. Does it need to be connected to the internet?
In some cases, it’s hard to buy a product that’s not smart. TVs are a great example of this. Almost all new TVs come with built-in internet connectivity so they can access streaming services. But if you use a Roku or Apple TV, there’s no need to connect your smart TV to the network.
If a smart device doesn’t need to be online, don’t put it online, which opens it up to hacking.
2. Change the default password
If any tech you buy comes with a default password, the first thing you should do is change it. Default passwords offer hackers an easy way in to your gadgets, and they’re so simple to change that you really have no excuse not to. The same advice goes for any online accounts your gadgets connect to. Many store or share data using a cloud service, such as cameras that let you view video from anywhere. Make sure those accounts have a strong password.
Use a unique password for every service so that problems with one service doesn’t mean password problems for every site. Consider a password manager to help you keep track of those passwords.
3. Update the software
All your connected gadgets use software or firmware to make them work, and like the software on your computer or smartphone, it needs to be kept up to date. As manufacturers find problems or security vulnerabilities in the software, they provide updates. To avoid being hacked, you’ll want to install those updates as soon as possible.
The smarter your smart device, the more likely it will be able to check for and install updates on their own. More basic smart devices will likely require you to watch for patches yourself. Create an item on your calendar to remind you to check for software updates, so your gadgets are always running the latest software.
4. Only access your smart home from secure devices
Even if your smart home devices are completely secured, if you access them from unsecured devices, they’re still vulnerable to hackers. Using a public computer could allow others to access your connected gadgets, and using a computer without antivirus protection could allow malware onto your connected gadgets. Don’t let your security stop with your smart home!
5. Only buy smart gadgets from reputable brands
Internet-connected devices open up a world of possibilities by letting you access your gadgets from anywhere. But there’s a catch: they often rely on manufacturer support. Any device that stores data in the cloud requires that the manufacturer maintain the cloud so you can access it. If the manufacturer goes out of business or decides to sunset the product, you may find yourself with a very expensive paperweight.
And if you buy from a manufacturer not known for connected products, you may wind up with a gadget that’s simply not secure. The smart stuffed animal CloudPets is an example of both. The gadget stored messages online without any security, and as the manufacturer struggles financially, there’s little incentive to secure your data.
6. Be careful about used devices
Used connected products can mean trouble. There may be no way to clear data already on the device. The manufacturer may not let you transfer ownership to a second party.
Before you buy a used smart product, check the details. Will you be able to gain access to use it, and can you be sure no one else has access to it? Look up the manual online; if anything remains unclear, a web search may point you in the right direction.
[Image credit: Smart home concept via Shutterstock]