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Basic smart home technology isn’t exactly new in the great scheme of things. 57% of UK homeowners now own at least one smart device, whether it’s for entertainment purposes or to help them get a firmer grip on their energy consumption and carbon emissions.
While it cannot be denied that smart homes are on the rise, we have to ask the lasting question - is the increasing presence of technology in our homes posing a risk to our security?
Smart homes use a multitude of different devices to perform a series of functions. Using the Internet as a backdrop, each device (which can range from a smart speaker or TV, to light switches, appliances and door locks, among other things), is connected through a central ‘hub’, usually centralised on your home WiFi router or your mobile device.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is enhancing the ways in which we spend time at home by connecting more of the appliances and devices we use, all of which are designed to make our lives easier, more comfortable and enjoyable. However, connecting so many appliances and devices to the Internet and using that as the basis for your home’s automation presents underlying risks and considerations.
The advent of smart home tech has driven manufacturers and producers to create devices that make our humble abodes even more connected, automated and digital. New products seem to emerge out of thin air, allowing homeowners to perform basic functions like controlling thermostats and lighting, and advanced ones such as learning our behaviours and patterns to optimise security and efficiency. However, these devices cannot coexist without an understanding of a household owner’s personal information.
By relying on Internet connectivity for many of your smart home’s functions and features, you’re opening yourself and your technology to several security risks. This is why you should pay close attention to your overall security posture and follow a few simple steps to mitigate any potential risks.
This guide will outline the types of risks you could face in your smart home, along with some essential security tips to ensure you stay as safe as possible.
Smart home devices usually come with built-in Global Positioning System (GPS) trackers that automatically detect the location of your property. These details are meant to be kept private, as the device manufacturers’ respective privacy policies will usually stipulate. However, as this information is saved in the cloud, this means that a malicious actor could exploit and potentially gain access to this information.
Should your computer or phone become infected with malware, perhaps after clicking a dangerous link accidentally, the perpetrator will usually be able to access and unveil a homeowner’s location. Regardless of the hacker’s intentions, this constitutes a significant invasion of privacy.
Many smart home devices rely on video and audio recordings. Smart speakers and thermostats will usually rely on voice recognition, and devices like Google's Nest Audio and Amazon’s Echo and Alexa hubs will - naturally - eavesdrop, recording everything that’s said within a close distance of the microphone.
What’s more, smart security cameras and alarms will usually record and distribute live video footage to your mobile phone if you request it, as a way to show you what’s happening if you’re absent.
However, while this activity is otherwise innocuous, should your devices be compromised and someone gets unauthorised access to your audio and video equipment, they can then manipulate them to perform commands that you do not give. As a result, they can keep track of what you are saying or doing.
As said above, smart home devices hold valuable personal information, from your identifiable info like your name and date of birth to financial details like your credit card number and bank account details. Should a cybercriminal gain access to your network or system, by way of phishing emails, compromising your password, or social engineering methods, they can gain access to this data to use as a bargaining chip or demand a ransom.
Becoming the victim of a targeted cyber attack is not easy, especially considering it can happen in the blink of an eye to anybody. It’s no wonder why many self-employed people - who often work from home - try to protect their information, and that of their clients and suppliers, by entrusting third-party 24/7 threat detection and response specialists.
Instead of breaching individual smart devices, some cybercriminals may infiltrate the databases of device manufacturers or providers with the intent of stealing valuable customer data. These high-profile data breaches can often result in irreparable reputational damage and heavy fines for companies, so it’s in their best interests to ensure this doesn’t happen.
However, if you are the unfortunate victim of such a cyber attack, cyber thieves could potentially exploit your data for malicious purposes. This can extend to include identity theft, opening the door to potential credit card fraud, debt, and other devastating financial and personal activity.
Smart door locks and keyless locks, when paired with smart security and surveillance cameras, make a home’s security much more robust on the surface, only allowing access to authorised users that verify their identity upon entry.
However, if network or device vulnerabilities were exploited by a malicious actor, these locks and cameras could be disabled remotely without your knowledge. Or, even worse, criminals could allow themselves or accomplices to gain unauthorised access to your property and potentially steal or vandalise your possessions. This situation is almost akin to you giving a stranger your front door key and permission to change the locks.
Therefore, for your own personal security and safety, it’s vital that your property’s points of entry are not gifted to someone intending to break in and enter.
If you want to enjoy all the benefits of a smart home, you need to address some crucial security risks first.
Change your default router username and password.
When you receive your router from your Internet provider, it will come with a default username and password. Once initially connected, you can access the settings and change the username and password to ones that you can remember, and ones that will deter hackers from guessing the details.
Consider creating separate networks in your home.
When you are in your router’s control panel, you can set up a guest network which can be exclusively reserved for your IoT devices. Since you will be essentially dedicated a specific amount of bandwidth for your smart home devices, it will mean that you can keep your primary home network reserved for essentials. You can even create separate usernames and passwords for your guest network.
Password-protect all your devices.
It goes without saying that with any password you create, make sure it is strong (i.e., contains a mixture of lowercase and capitalised letters, numbers and special characters, and is at least 12 characters long). Make sure that each device has a unique password - never use the same one for more than one login. Creating passwords that are difficult to guess will enhance your home security.
Use strong antivirus and firewall security software.
Most routers will have built-in firewalls in their hardware. However, you will need to enable this first. What’s more, on your primary device or computer, make sure that you have professional antivirus software installed. Most paid versions will come with additional firewall and Internet security features, meaning that any suspicious sites will be flagged, and any dodgy files that slip through the cracks are quickly scanned and dealt with before any damage is done.
Run security updates and patches.
All the software that you use will work properly all the time if you ensure that it is kept up to date. Outdated and unpatched software will have vulnerabilities and potential loopholes that hackers could exploit more easily, so it’s imperative that you update any of your devices when prompted.
Back up your devices with MFA.
Your mobile phone and computer are very straightforward to enable MFA (multi-factor authentication) on. Via your operating system, you can enable MFA which means that you’ll only be able to gain access once you verify your identity (usually via an SMS message, phone call, email, push notification, or biometric fingerprint stamp). This will also prevent any unauthorised access being granted to third parties, as the system will block any user that does not pass MFA.
Check your suppliers.
As smart home products continue to flood the market, it’s unlikely that this trend of home automation is slowing down. While your smart home has the potential to unlock more control and convenience for you, it’s vital that you keep security at the forefront of your mind throughout the process.
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