How to Keep Your Home Safe From Hackers

If you were to guess off the top of your head how many smart or connected items you have in your home, what would you say? Two or three? Maybe five? A dozen?

You might be surprised to learn that on average, American households have 13 connected devices, including computers and mobile devices as well as household appliances, toys and other gadgets. And while you might not think that your smart thermostat or refrigerator is putting your security at risk, you’d probably be surprised at how vulnerable you really are. In fact, research indicates that an Internet of Things (IoT) device is attacked every two minutes, making it imperative that you take steps to protect your home and family.

What’s the Risk?

Imagine you arrive home, only to discover that instead of the usual 68 degrees, your smart thermostat is set at 85 — and climbing. As you try to turn down the heat, you discover a message from a hacker: Pay a ransom, and you’ll regain control. Fail to pay, and the temperature will continue to rise, potentially damaging your heating system and making your home uninhabitable until you get it fixed. Or, imagine that someone hacks into your network and gains access to your home assistant and the personal details and financial information stored there, and goes on a spending spree that wipes out your bank account.

These might seem like extreme examples, but they are real dangers when your devices are connected to your home network. Not only can hackers use your smart devices to access your home and information and cause trouble, they can also gain control of your devices to use for nefarious purposes.

Hackers often launch bot attacks using unsecured devices to attack bigger targets. Essentially, with these attacks, hackers infect security cameras, televisions, baby monitors or any connected device with a form of malware that sends traffic to a particular server. When all of these devices access the server at once — and we’re talking hundreds of thousands or even millions — it can “clog” the server and prevent legitimate traffic from getting through. Called DDoS attack, such attacks can knock even major companies offline, costing millions of dollars in revenue. And most people never even realize that their devices were part of the problem.

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Securing the System

One reason that smart home devices are so vulnerable is that the average homeowner never really gives the security of their coffee maker a second thought. The problem, though, is that any device connected to the internet creates a potential access point for a hacker, especially when it’s left vulnerable. And given that many people don’t change the default security settings on their devices, it’s all too easy for hackers to access them. Not convinced? In 2017, hackers launched one of the biggest botnet attacks in history, using a mere 60 different username and password combinations to access millions of smart devices.

With that in mind, it’s imperative that you secure your connected devices using the following guidelines.

  • Invest in a smart device manager. While your home Wi-Fi router and antivirus software will provide a certain degree of protection, they don’t provide full protection for every device on the network or insight into what’s happening on all of your devices. A security tool that can show you exactly what is accessing the network and how well it’s protected is imperative if you want to avoid sneak attacks.
  • Use passwords. Never rely on the default credentials for your devices. Change passwords and consider using a password manager to keep track.
  • Install security updates. Check for software updates to IoT devices regularly, especially when you first get a new device. Out-of-date hardware or operating systems can create vulnerabilities.
  • Secure your router. In addition to changing the password, give your router a name that isn’t the make/model of the device. This makes it harder for hackers to “crack the code” to your specific router.
  • Set up two-factor authentication. If a device stores personal information, such as credit card numbers, enable two-factor authentication to thwart any unauthorized access.

Smart devices have become an integral part of modern life, but unless you take care with security, they can create headaches — and even lead to identity theft and worse. Pay attention, and your devices will make your life easier, not harder.

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