Smart homes and security – is increased connectivity making us more vulnerable?

As the smart device market continues to grow, the concern is that the companies producing these devices are not putting security concerns high enough on their agendas.

The internet-of-things (IoT) is the trend of connecting an ever-growing array of devices together into a single home network. If you can control your thermostat using a smartphone app or you use a home assistant like the Amazon Echo to turn your lights on and off, you are already well on your way to having a smart home.

The direction this trend is heading in is to eventually have everything from your fridge to your door locks linked together in a system that you can control from a single point. If this sounds awesome and futuristic, that’s because it is. But, it could also be creating significant security risks.

If there is one certainty in the world of cybersecurity, it is that as something gains popularity and users, hackers will inevitably turn their attention to it as well. The fact that each individual smart device is connected to the internet is a source of potential vulnerability, so what happens when you tie all of them together in a single network?

The problem with smart devices

People are attracted to smart devices because they promise to make their lives easier. Without taking a few simple precautions though, they could have the opposite effect. The security concerns regarding these devices exist on a variety of levels.

For starters, the home assistants often used to tie smart home systems together have raised some major questions since they’ve become more popular. Smart devices often track user behaviour and other data.

It can be shocking just how much information about your daily life is gathered from the data collected on your devices. Alexa and other devices like it need to have a microphone turned on in order to hear and understand your commands, while the data stored on smart thermostats can reveal a lot about your regular habits.

The same way that the camera of your laptop can be hijacked to give a hacker a view into your home, these devices can potentially be hacked into. If you use your smart thermostat to turn the heating on when you are five minutes away from home, a hacker could pretty quickly learn when you tend to be out of the house. What if they use Alexa’s microphone and camera to double-check that no one is going to be in?

The problem expands when you consider the fact that a vulnerability in any single device in a network could potentially give someone access to the entire system. As the smart device market continues to grow, the concern is that the companies producing these devices are not putting security concerns high enough on their agendas.

Securing your smart home

The smart home trend presents a unique challenge to security companies like us. The key difference between your Amazon Echo and your smartphone or laptop is that the former is a closed system. You can’t install any third party protection onto your smart thermostat or your smart TV like you can on your smartphone. This means that the key to making sure you are protected is to ensure that the central network that all your devices connect to is safe, and that each individual device is optimised to suit your needs.

Here are some easy steps you can take today:

Your router

All of the individual devices that make up your smart home all go through your router, so that should be the primary focus. To set up your router for maximum security you should:

  • Change the default login name and password to something unique.

  • Make sure that your firewall is turned on.

  • Change your Wi-Fi settings so that everyone that wants to use your network has to have the right SSID and password.

  • Some routers will let you set up a separate Wi-Fi network that you can place all of your smart devices on to keep them separate from your computer and mobile devices.

  • Keep up to date with the latest updates.

Your devices

When it comes to each smart device on your network you are going to need to do your research. The big question is what kind of security do the devices utilise and does the manufacturer provide updates and patches?

The big, well-established companies are probably your best bet as they will have huge security teams with lots of resources working to make sure their devices are as up to date as possible. However, it is not unheard of for these companies to leave glaring holes so you should still do your research.

When it comes to each device, some basic starting steps are:

  • Turn off the remote-management function when you don’t plan to use that particular device. If you are going on holiday and will not need to adjust the heating in your home, you can turn off the thermostat’s ability to be remotely operated.

  • Make sure the microphones are only turned on for the devices you want to control with your voice. Your smart TV probably has a microphone, but if you are not using voice commands to select content you don’t really need it turned on.

  • Make sure that your laptops and smartphones are protected as these often act as the central hubs for controlling the various devices in your smart home. A good Antivirus is a must, but making sure your passwords are secure is important too.

  • If you use public W-Fi networks you should use a VPN to avoid the possibility of having personal data hoovered up.

As long as you’re clued up on how your smart devices link together to form a single system connected by your network, you’ll understand where there could be vulnerabilities and can take steps to fix them. Then you are free to enjoy the benefits of your smart home securely and privately.

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