Internet of Things (IoT) devices are growing in popularity, with the most common smart home gadgets including those in the entertainment category, like smart speakers and TVs. Almost a third of Americans purchased a smart device, or installed one given to them, in the past year.
But, from an IT standpoint, smart home devices might not be safe. Many of them come with inherent security flaws, making them vulnerable to hackers, who can take control of the devices. Hackers could even break into IoT devices on your network as a means to access your laptops, tablets, phones, and other devices that contain valuable information.
You don’t need to give up the ease and convenience of smart home devices in order to secure your home network. Instead, you should take some simple steps to make sure hackers can’t use your smart devices to access your network and personal data. Practice good network security, keep your smart devices segregated, install updates as needed, and only use smart capabilities when you need them.
Practice Good Network Security
Smart home devices can open up vulnerabilities in your home network that hackers can exploit. But they won’t need them if your home network itself is wide open to threats. Make sure you practice the basics of home network security, like changing your router’s default admin credentials, using a unique home network name and password, and using a firewall or a home network security device to keep your network secure.
Avoid renting a router or gateway from your ISP — it’s cheaper and more secure to buy your own. Replace it every three to four years. Use antivirus software on your devices to protect yourself from malware. Educate yourself about common phishing scams and social engineering attacks, so you can recognize them when you encounter them.
Segregate Your Smart Devices and Keep Them Updated
Smart devices are inherently vulnerable to hackers because they typically don’t have the computing power to run any kind of antivirus or antimalware apps, and many manufacturers don’t bother putting out any kind of updates or security patches for them. One effective way to keep hackers from using your smart home devices to access your home network is to create a second network just for the smart devices, like your smart speakers, smart fridge, and so forth. If hackers gain access via a smart device, too bad, they’ll only be able to access your other smart devices. They won’t be able to access your tablets, phones, or laptops, where the really valuable information is kept. However, if some of your smart devices, like your TV, also contain more personal information, make sure to keep those on the more secure network — and make sure to install firmware updates as they become available to address any known security issues.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should skip regular updates for your smart devices, if they’re available, and a network protection device, if you can afford it. That’s because the most common way for hackers to exploit smart devices is by taking them over and using them to stage botnet attacks. Botnet attacks can be quite sophisticated and can include large-scale data breaches and DDoS attacks. Aside from installing a home network security device, the best thing you can do to keep your smart home devices from being hijacked for botnet attacks is to keep their firmware and software updated, and replace them every three or four years, or as the manufacturer stops supporting them.
Reconsider What Needs to Connect to the Internet
Sometimes, you buy a smart home gadget because it’s a smart home gadget. You want to be able to ask Alexa to order more garbage bags the moment it comes up or use your smartphone to control your thermostat while you’re away from home. You want to be able to turn the lights on and off with your voice, or with a smartphone app. That’s all well and good.
But you might not necessarily need all of your home gadgets to connect to the internet and communicate with each other digitally. For example, your smart robot vacuum might be perfectly capable of keeping the floors clean without sending you emails about it. When buying a new gadget or appliance, consider whether you even need to be able to control it from your smartphone before you shell out the extra money for a smart version. Or, if you get the smart version anyway, consider whether you even want to connect it to the internet, and if you do, whether you want to turn off some of the smart functionalities. At the very least, check the privacy settings to make sure you’re not sharing more than you’re comfortable with.
If you have smart devices, your home might be vulnerable to hackers. Take steps to protect yourself, and let the hackers look for an easier target.