We’re firmly in the post-holiday season and all the stress of shopping and travel is over. Now that you have time to breathe, maybe you’re just now getting around to setting up all those cool new smart home devices you were gifted.
(You registered all your new devices, right? If you haven’t, check out the first post in this series 3 Ways to Protect Your Tech Before It’s Stolen)
Some of the hottest gifts this holiday season included the Amazon Show and Google Home. In addition to what these devices do on their own, they can connect your entire home through
While all these advances are designed to make your life easier, there are real risks to introducing WiFi connected products to your home. James Sanders at TechRepublic recently put together a top five List of the Biggest IoT Security Failures of 2018. With all these security risks in mind, it’s a good idea to take a few proactive steps before your life becomes the inspiration for an episode of Black Mirror:
Use a Guest Network
Often, it’s the small items like smart plugs that are the most vulnerable to hacker attacks but there have been instances of smart refrigerators being hacked as well. An easy way to keep the sensitive information on your smart phone or computer from being compromised through your WiFi network is to have two separate (and secured) networks. You can set up a Guest network through your WiFi router just for your smart home devices that uses a separate password. This ensures that if one of your smart home devices does get hacked, there’s a degree of separation between your smart home network and the one you use for your computers and smart phones.
Setting up a guest network can vary by router model, here is a quick generic guide to get you started.
Be sure to give any WiFi network you use a unique name as hackers may be able to identify the make and model of your router based off the default network name. And while you’re at it, follow the next step for another layer of security.
Create Unique Names and Passwords
Many internet-connected devices and products come with a default username and password. Often, these aren’t unique to your device and are used for every product of that make and model. By making each username and password unique, you’re adding an additional layer of security to your network.
Still, that can be a lot of passwords to remember. There is a solution, however, in the form of password keeping software. These software programs will securely store your passwords through encryption so you only have to remember one password for the software.
Don’t trust a password manager? Try coming up with categories for your passwords so you can safely record password hints instead of copying down the passwords themselves. Maybe all your smart home network devices use characters from your favorite books or are the titles of James Bond movies – just be sure to add a number and symbol for even more protection.
It’s also a good idea to change these passwords regularly, try setting a reminder in your calendar to update your passwords. This would also be a good time to follow through on our next tip.
Keep Your Software Updated
Certain smart devices, like your phone or your game console, have easy ways to let you know when a software or security update is available. They can send push notifications whenever you use the device. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with many of your smart devices. You may have to go to the manufacturer’s website to see if an update is available. Try to do this on a regular basis as updates often include patches for security flaws – or even if they don’t, they’re fixing some problem with your device. For the money you’re putting into these products, you want them to function as promised, right?
Speaking of your hard-earned dollars, check out our next tip before you invest any more money into your smart network.
Cheaper Isn’t Always Better
Chances are you’ve started your smart home journey with a hub – the aforementioned Amazon Echo or Google Home, but maybe now you’re looking to expand. Retailers are jampacked with smart items at all price points and it may be tempting to go for the cheapest option. But that low price tag comes at a cost you may not have considered. Often, a low cost means less testing for vulnerabilities and probably no continuing tech support – meaning no security patches. All of this will provide hackers with the opportunity to attack your network or recruit your smart bulbs for a bot army.
The simplest solution is to do your research before you buy. Wirecutter is a great resource for vetting smart home devices and they update their offerings regularly – they even have an entire category devoted to smart home devices.
As you add on to your smart home network, follow our last tip for each new device.
Check the Settings and Disable Features
Just like the bloatware that comes pre-installed on your smart phone, your smart devices will have features enabled that may benefit the manufacturer more than you. They will also have default security settings that may not meet your standards. When you’re adding new devices to your network, review the default settings and see if you want to make any changes.
A feature that you are likely to encounter that you may want to disable is Universal Plug in and Play or UPnP. True, this feature offers some convenience as it allows devices to connect to each other automatically but with convenience comes vulnerability. Taking the time to manually configure your devices eliminates the reliability on these protocols using local networks – which is what hackers leverage to access your network.
There are even more ways to protect your home network (two-factor authentication, using a VPN, etc) but these five tips are the easiest and quickest ways to get you started. If you enjoyed this article, stay tuned for the last post in this three-part series, “5 Ways to Keep Your Child Safe Online”.