The world of smart home technology is a wonderful place. Who doesn’t want their coffee maker to automatically turn on in the morning, to be able to adjust their thermostat remotely, or arm or disarm your entire home at the press of a button on their cell phone? These are just a few of the options of many in the smart home tech world, which also includes a wide variety of gadgets and apps that are designed to protect your home and increase your safety.
These security additions are amazing and allow us to feel safer than ever in our homes, but there are some drawbacks to keep in mind when deciding to add IoT devices (“Internet of Things” - meaning any physical object that is embedded with sensors, processing ability, software, and other technologies that connect and exchange data with other devices and systems over the internet or other communication networks). For example, did you know that the more Wi-Fi capable appliances you have, the higher of a chance they will be hacked?
Believe it or not, hackers are playing havoc with IoT devices and this can cause a shocking amount of damage to your home. CBC did an investigation in September of 2018 of smart home security by hiring “ethical hackers” to hack into one family’s smart home and, “All it took was a white van, a team of three hackers and a phishing email to remotely unlock Johanna Kenwood and Peter Yarema's front door. The couple's home in Oakville, Ontario, is automated with a number of smart devices, including their lights, thermostat, security cameras and the deadbolt on their door.”
When you hear stories like this, you cannot help but be concerned. Although there are risks to smart home tech, there are ways to utilize smart home technology while still being safe.
- If your gadget uses a password to access the settings, change that password frequently. Ideally, change it once every 3 months. Be sure to add capital letters and numbers!
- Protect your network. Purchase your router(s) from a reputable brand and make sure you change the router's default name and password from the one that was initially assigned at installation and continue to change it periodically.
- You can also create a separate password-protected wifi network (many routers already have the capability to host multiple networks) for your smart home devices so that, in the event that someone does manage to hack into one network, they will not have access to all of your information, like banking or other sensitive information on another network.
- You can completely hide your home’s Wi-Fi network from view all together through your router’s settings menu. This makes it so that if a hacker was searching for available Wi-Fi networks, it would not even be listed.
- I know it is tempting… but don’t use the same password for everything. Never underestimate the power of a password! Avoid using obvious choices like pets names and opt for something less obvious, like your mortal enemie’s birthday.
- Download a trustworthy password saving app like LastPass. This way you can update the new password easily and you do not have to try to remember every single password.
- Disable any features you do not use. For example, if you only use a certain gadget from your home on Wi-Fi, disable remote access. Same goes for voice control items, like your Smart TV, especially if you use Alexa, Siri, or Google Nest to control your tech.
- Some gadgets, such as alarm systems, come with their own connection to the internet. Learn how to turn that connection off if it becomes necessary to do so.
- Enable two-factor authentication on your devices. A strong password is great, but by enabling a second form of authentication from an authenticator app like Google Authenticator or Authy, you are protecting gadgets from hacking even further. These apps create (typically) a 6-digit code that is used as the second form of authentication.
- Do not leave an internet-connected appliance or other IoT gadgets running constantly unless it’s necessary. For example, you don't need your home speaker system connected to your digital music providers all the time.
- Stick with reputable brands. This isn’t a purchase that you should skimp on! Also, register your new devices with the manufacturer as they tend to send out software updates that will address newfound bugs and concerns.
- Baby monitors with video are a common target for hackers. Use a password unique to that device and change it often. Never leave the monitor on when not in use.
- Never share passwords with anyone unless it is absolutely necessary. Most home WIFI systems have a "guest" feature with a separate password and limited access. Use it.
- Factory reset devices before getting rid of them, regardless if you are gifting, donating, or throwing it in the bin.
In this age of internet connectivity — from coffee makers to stereos and even washing machines — it's smart to play it safe. Know what's connected and protect yourself with these easy tips.