Protecting Your Smart Home

How to secure your smart home from intruders and hackers

The future is here with the recent popularity of high-tech homes, so smart home security is more important than ever. You can now preheat your oven on the way home from work, or have your refrigerator order you groceries when you run out of eggs and milk.

Smart homes digitally connect all of your appliances and systems (heating, security, and more) to your home network. Each system can be remotely controlled offering convenience like never before.

October is well under way and since it is cybersecurity awareness month, let’s take a look at some of the things you can do to make sure that your digital home stays safe and secure.

What is an IoT Device?

IoT stands for Internet of Things. The smart devices and gadgets connected to your digital home network can be collectively referred to as IoT devices. This could be anything from your smart thermostat to your personal computer.

If a cybercriminal were to gain access to your smart thermostat, they could easily tell whether you are home or not. Access to data you’ve shared with your digital assistant (eg: Google home) can leave important and sensitive personal information exposed. 

Smart home security measures

Start with the Wi-fi router

Your Wi-Fi router is the fundamental device that connects the rest of your digital home’s smart devices. It is the gateway to your digital home. 

  • Make sure to buy a reputable brand of router.
  • Get to know the company’s privacy policies regarding the personal data you share.
  • Ask about the security features in place and get to know how frequently software updates are provided.

Rename your router

The manufacturer name or ID can be used to identify the router’s make and model. This is sensitive information that you must protect. 

It is best to rename your Wi-Fi router with an alternative that is random, unusual and has nothing to do with you. In other words, make sure the name isn’t personal.

Encryption method

In order to keep your network secure, change the encryption settings to something robust like WPA2. WPA2  is short for Wi-Fi protected access 2. WPA2 generates unique encryption keys that are constantly changing, making it difficult to hack into your system.

Have a guest network

If you are throwing a party, or expecting people over, set up a separate guest network. Make sure that none of your home devices are connected to this network. Guests will then be free to use the Wi-Fi without having access to your personal home network.

Change the default settings

In addition to changing the name of the router to something less identifiable, you should change the router’s default password to something that is unique and hard to guess.

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Even if you refrain from tweeting about your personal life or sharing information about yourself on social media, a lot of companies and websites are capable of tracking what you do online. 

Choose a Strong Password for all Your Smart Devices

You must avoid using simple and easy to guess passwords like “12345”, “password”, your name or your pet’s name, etc.

Try to come up with complicated passwords and make them as random as possible. Mix it up with lowercase and uppercase letters, special characters, symbols, numbers etc. You can make use of software like Lastpass which helps create strong passwords. 

Most importantly, once you set up a password, don’t stick with it for more than 6 months. Despite how inconvenient this seems, it is one of the few practical solutions to keep cybercriminals from guessing your password.

Update your software

Whether it is an IoT device or your regular smartphone, be sure to download and install the latest software updates. Most of them are security patches for system flaws that can leave your device exposed to cybersecurity threats. 

Use two-step authentication

Set up your devices and accounts in such a way that a one-time password is generated and sent to your smartphone every time you want to log in. This is a great way of strengthening your digital home’s cybersecurity.

Be cautious when using Public Wi-Fi

If you want to manage your home remotely using your smartphone, try to avoid using public Wi-Fi while doing this.

However, if circumstances don’t permit and you have to use the WiFi at a cafe or public transit, use a trusted VPN. It can offer you several features that help keep your connection secure.

Web browsing

Have you ever been startled by an ad that popped up on your computer almost moments after you mentioned it on some social media platform or simply browsed about it on the web?

This is the nature of targeted ads, one of the more intrusive aspects of the web, and they can certainly leave you paranoid about the information you share via the internet. 

Even if you refrain from tweeting about your personal life or sharing information about yourself on social media, a lot of companies and websites are capable of tracking what you do online. 

The information they collect includes, but isn’t limited to, your browsing habits, browsing history, your location, and your interests. This data is used to create a digital profile which advertisers then use to decide what type of ads to send your way.

So,what can you do about it?

You can try using extensions like uBlock Origin and Privacy Badger which help block ads and trackers, prevent excessive and invasive data collection and also block malware from getting into your system through your browser.

Some websites like Netflix and Reddit also offer opt-out options that can be enabled manually. This can significantly reduce the amount of your private and personal data being collected by third parties on the internet. 

HTTPS Everywhere is another extension that lets you connect to a more secure version of a website, if available.

Don’t Install Software From Untrusted Websites

Every app or software you download from an unknown source is a potential cybersecurity threat. Some may offer cool features or interfaces, but the security risk is not worth the trouble.

Apps of questionable origin and can be used by cybercriminals to track your location and collect data stored on your device without your permission or knowledge.

  • Stop downloading software from third party websites and unknown sources. Unless it’s from the official website or verified in the app store, don’t bother. You’ll only put your devices at risk by doing so.

     

  • Disable permissions that grant apps access to private data like your location, microphone, contacts, etc. if it isn’t related to the app’s function.

     

  • Remove all unnecessary apps from your system that you don’t have any use for. Some of these are possibly running in the background, taking up space, collecting data and disrupting your device’s performance.

Unplug devices that you won’t be using while away

If you’re planning on taking a trip and leaving your digital home unattended for a while, then consider unplugging any and all smart devices that don’t need to be active during your absence. 

This is pretty much every appliance apart from the security cameras, thermostat and anti-theft alarm systems.

This effectively makes them inaccessible to cybercriminals looking for a chance to get into your home.

Encrypt your laptop

An unencrypted laptop is a dangerous thing to lose because a seasoned hacker doesn’t really need your password to copy data files from your hard drive.

If you’re using a Windows OS, you can use the built in BitLocker to encrypt your drives.

In the event that your laptop is stolen, all of the encrypted data files become gibberish without the correct password and security key.

Backup your data

This is to ensure that a sudden power outage doesn’t erase or compromise the security of the data stored on your home devices. It is also a good idea to back up to a reliable and secure online storage provider in addition to iCloud (Apple users) or Google’s cloud drive. As long as the backed up data is encrypted, you won’t have to worry about losing your information in the event that your device is stolen or lost .

There are plenty of good online data backup services available like Backblaze, Carbonite, and SOS.

When it comes to digital privacy and cybersecurity, the key is to be vigilant and stay informed of all the latest security measures you can take to protect your privacy. Use IoT devices smartly and remain aware of the power they hold, especially in the hands of the wrong person.

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