October 02, 2018

5 Steps to Help Safeguard Your Smart Life

Many of us start our day asking Alexa or Siri for the weather forecast, the news headlines, or directions.

Using smart speakers for information or to control other home devices is convenient. But what if those devices allowed someone to monitor you? British security researcher Mark Barnes made headlines in 2017 when he used a modified Amazon Echo to hack into other Amazon Echos, enabling him to secretly stream audio from the hacked devices.

While the hack took a high skill level and required him to physically access the targeted Echos, Barnes' demonstration hits close to home for the 47.3 million — or one in five — adults in the U.S. with access to a smart speaker. 

During October, which is “National Cyber Security Month,” it's a good time to look at the smart devices around you and take steps to ensure they won't allow a cybercriminal to stalk you.

Opening Your Door

Any device in your home that uses electricity can be part of a home network and commanded by voice, remote control, tablet, or smartphone. These devices communicate with each other and the internet using wireless protocols such as Z–Wave, ZigBee, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi, comprising the Internet of Things, or IoT.

Gartner predicts that a typical home could contain more than 500 smart devices by 2022, growth spurred by the falling cost of sensors and emerging technology platforms.

“Every internet–connected device is an entry point to your home and should be secured,” advises Richard Hill, vice president for Industry Technology for the Mortgage Bankers Association.

When selecting a service, it's important that you get products that fit your needs, while limiting exposure points. And if you're using a home monitoring service, you should understand how information that is being collected about you is being used.

Staying Diligent

To protect your devices, your hub, and your privacy, experts suggest the following steps, repeating each time you add devices or change service providers.

  1. Install security software wherever possible, such as on mobile devices used to control IoT devices. If a device doesn't really need access to the web, disable the connection.
  2. Keep devices up to date and always install the latest software updates to protect yourself against malware and emerging online threats.
  3. Change the username and password for each internet–connected smart home device from its default factory settings and use passwords that are long and not easy to guess.
  4. Enable two–step account verification, and pay special attention to apps used to control other devices or get reports — like the email where you send snaps from your security camera. If attackers have access, they could know when you are home, and might be able to control the camera.
  5. Never use public Wi–Fi connections to remotely access your smart home. These networks are used by hackers for man–in–the–middle attacks, when someone intercepts your communication.