A Quick Guide to Keeping Your Smart Home Secure

It’s expected that by the year 2025, there’ll be over 64 billion IoT devices, and most of them will be inside our homes. Smart TVs, smart locks, smart lights; they all offer great convenience but expose users to great threats as well.

When thinking about cyber threats, what comes to mind most often is computer viruses. Thus, many people seem to believe that cyber-security stops at anti-malware software installed on a smartphone or PC.

However, there are many types of cyber-security threats, and every internet-connected device must be properly protected, smart homes included.


Security Risks Posed by Smart Homes

Cyber-criminals have many reasons for intercepting the network of a smart home, and two of the most common ones are:
● Accessing personal data
● Harnessing the power of the IoT devices

Personal data can be used for a variety of purposes. What most people are concerned about is identity theft. Cyber-criminals can gather credit card information, medical records, and more, not only causing financial problems, but legal ones as well.

Personal data can also be used to breach into a company. Those working from home or using their personal devices at work can open their company up to vulnerabilities without even knowing.

A hacked personal email account opens the door to a company’s intranet, and if the same password is used across multiple accounts, personal and business, breaching into a company is made even easier.

IoT devices can be useful to cybercriminals for Distributed Denial of Service (or DDoS) attacks.

Harnessing the power of multiple small devices allows hackers to launch large-scale cyber attacks, bringing down major websites, disrupting the work of companies and organizations, etc.

Smart homes are vulnerable because these small IoT devices don’t have the type of cybersecurity settings found on smartphones or laptops. This is why it’s crucial to take steps to protect a smart home.


Securing the Network

Smart home cyber security starts at the WiFi router. The router is what connects IoT devices to the world, and first and foremost, it’s the router that should be protected.

Changing its name is the first step to be taken. The name provided by the manufacturer might identify the model, making it easier for hackers to gain access to it.

A unique name that reveals no personal information (like birthday, name, street address, etc.) should suffice.

Secondly, it’s a good idea to set up a guest network for any visitor. The guest network won’t tie into the internet connected devices inside the home, and it will offer more privacy.

If possible, a separate WiFi network solely for the smart home devices should be set up. This will allow for all network traffic for home automation to be conducted through a separate line from the one used by phones and computers.

Since most people access their bank accounts and other sensitive information through PCs and smartphones, in case of a DDoS attack, their sensitive information will be kept secure.


Avoiding Public Networks

Free public WiFi poses many threats, and everyone should avoid using it, whether they have a smart home or not.

Anyone can access public WiFi, and since it’s not encrypted, anyone can see the devices connected to it, and intercept that connection.

The best way to safely use a public network to manage the IoT devices at home is through a VPN (Virtual Private Network).

A VPN will, in a sense, make a device’s connection to a public network private. It hides and encrypts the connection, making it inaccessible by the outsiders.

“Will a VPN hide my IP?” you may wonder. That’s exactly how this service works. It hides the IP address and provides a device with a new one. That’s how all device activity is protected.


Change Default Passwords

All IoT devices should be protected with a password, and most of them come with a default username and password. The provided passwords are often not nearly secure enough, so changing them is a must.

The same is true for WiFi routers. All passwords should be changed immediately, and all of them should be strong and unique.

This often poses a problem, as people are buying more and more IoT devices, and keeping track of dozens of different passwords isn’t easy.

If creating and remembering a number of passwords is causing trouble, password managers can be of great help.

Password managers are apps designed to act as a failsafe for any important information such as passwords and PINs. All information is locked under one master password, so users can easily access it.

Most managers can generate random alphanumeric pass-codes that are impossible to guess, bringing cyber-security to a higher level.


Keep Software Up to Date

Software updates are crucial for cybersecurity, and that includes PCs, smartphones, smart TVs, smart kitchen appliances, and everything else.

While most people are used to automatic software updates today, some IoT devices must be updated manually. Frequently checking the manufacturer’s website will keep everyone informed about any new updates, so it’s always a good idea to bookmark the important links and check for updates as frequently as possible.

Outdated software is an easy target for hackers. Software updates don’t only introduce new features, but they often have bug fixes, and any known vulnerabilities are patched so that cyber-criminals cannot take advantage of them.


Power Down Devices When They’re Not Needed

Certain devices are not constantly in use, like lights or motion sensors, and powering them down when they’re not being used is a good cyber-security practice. If the device is switched off or disconnected, no one can take advantage of it.

This includes any old devices that are no longer used. Before throwing away an old device, reselling it, or simply storing it, it’s important to ensure that it’s disconnected from the network and powered down.


Final Thoughts

Taking these steps as a precaution will ensure improved cyber-security for any smart home, keeping all the devices inside and outside the home safe. It doesn’t take much to improve one’s cyber-security, and it will offer greater convenience, as well as a peace of mind.

    Harold Kilpatrick

    Harold is a cyber security consultant and a freelance blogger. He's currently working on a cyber security campaign to raise awareness around the threats that businesses can face online.

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