Smart Home

Smart home safety tips

Picture this:  you’re enjoying an evening at home when weird things start happening. The thermostat setting jumps to 90 so you’re suddenly roasting. You turn it down, but the temp goes right back up. Next, the camera in your kitchen starts playing vulgar music and won’t stop. Later you start hearing voices through that same speaker.

Is your house haunted? Nope—your home network was just hacked.

This scenario is exactly what happened to a couple living in Racine, Wisconsin, leaving them feeling scared, violated, and exposed.

With the lure of convenience, smart-home devices are more popular than ever—and now they’re popular with hackers too. The security of a network is only as strong as the weakest link and often connected devices such as stoves, refrigerators, doorbells, and thermostats are those weak points. A breach of any device could leave everything connected to the network  vulnerable to attack.

The good news is, there’s no reason to avoid this super convenient technology—but you do need to take precautions. Here are tips from the National Security Alliance:

  1. Make sure the device is up to standards. Before you buy, check to see if the smart device meets standards like ZigBee, Z-Wave or S2. Most well established brands follow them, but you should never assume (and that one that was a lot cheaper? It may be cheaper because they didn’t go through the effort of following the more secure protocols).
  2. Don’t connect in public. Never access your smart devices on a public network/open Wi-Fi. If you do, you leave the door wide open for opportunistic hackers (read more).
  3. Keep your cell phone secured. For your connected-home devices, your phone is your remote control. Make sure it’s locked down with a passcode, touchID or facial recognition. And, if your cell phone is stolen, make sure you lock it by remote access.
  4. Don’t slack on your passwords! You might not like it, but your passwords are your first line of defense. This is why it’s so important to NOT keep default names and passwords—either of which can be easily exploited by hackers. Make sure your devices AND your Wi-Fi network have strong passwords that are long and complex. And please, don’t name your network something super obvious—your address, your name, or a combination thereof—it puts a target on your house.

Other ideas from security experts:

  • Set up a guest network. Rather than sharing your password with visitors, set up a guest account so your private network stays private. Your router manufacturer may have instructions for how to do this, but here are some from How To Geek.
  • Check the default settings. Some smart device settings may benefit the manufacturer more than you. Make sure you’re sharing only what you want, not what they want.
  • Disable what you don’t need. If you’re not using some features of your smart home devices, turn them off—better to close those unused doors than leave them available.
  • Use two-step authentication. In the case of the couple in Racine, the manufacturer said that two-factor authentication would have prevented their devices from being hacked.
  • Run updates. Just because your device is secure out of the box doesn’t mean that it will stay that way. Run any and all updates available for your device so it stays up to date on the latest security patches and fixes.

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