Smart homes are no longer sci-fi territory. In the past five years, market adoption has increased significantly, and, according to recent data, up to 50% of Millennials own some kind of smart device. What’s more, 70% of Americans who don’t already own a smart device plan to purchase one in the following year. The most popular options are smart speakers (more than one-quarter of US homes have one!), but other products are gaining ground: we have smart lights, smart thermostats, smart doorbells, smart plugs, and much more. We’re finally living in a time when smart devices are affordable and easy to find, enabling us to save time and boost comfort in our homes. However, smart technology also has its risks, and understanding and managing these risks is essential for savvy homeowners.
The biggest smart home threats are security-related. Smart devices are connected to the Internet, and if you’re not careful, hackers and criminals can access your family’s private data and even breach your property. For example, many hackers exploited software vulnerabilities and lack of security measures to gain remote access to IoT devices, blasting music at full volume in smart speakers, access smart camera footage, and even lock people out of their homes. These scenarios might sound scary. After all, you invested in smart devices to save time and boost home comfort, not to complicate your life. The good news is that most home security threats can be prevented if you understand the practices that hackers use to get into your home systems and learn to thwart their attempts.
1. Hackers can see your online activity if the network isn’t encrypted.
Most people know by now that if they connect their laptop to an unsecured Wi-Fi connection at the airport or in a café, they risk exposing their data to hackers. But this threat is present everywhere, not just outside your home. As long as your network isn’t encrypted, third parties and hackers can view your online activity when surfing the Internet from home. As a result, this can lead to a loss of private data and sensitive information, leaving you vulnerable to cyberattacks. Keep in mind that your IoT devices still hold a lot of personal information and that they can be used as a gateway into your network. Cybercriminals can learn your location, eavesdrop on private conversations, even gain access to private bank account information, which they can later sell to malicious parties or advertisers.
This prospect is definitely alarming, so how can you ensure this doesn’t happen in your house? The best way to prevent hackers from seeing your online activity is to get a VPN, which hides your IP address and encrypts online traffic so third parties and hackers can’t see it.
2. Hackers can gain access to smart devices via compromised passwords.
In 2019, a couple in Wisconsin discovered that a hacker had managed to gain access to their smart home devices through their Wi-Fi or Nest system. Once the hacker had control over their smart home devices, they increased the room temperature, played disturbing music at high volume, and even talked to them via the camera in the kitchen. It was an alarming incident for the couple, who confessed that they felt at risk in their own home and that companies like Google should do more to protect their devices. Speaking to the press, a Google representative said that the couple’s Nest wasn’t breached. The incident was most likely caused by using compromised passwords exposed through breaches on other websites and suggested that Nest users should migrate to a Google account, where they can activate two-factor authentication.
A unique password should protect every device and control panel in your home. Also, the password should be strong, meaning that it should have more than nine characters, numbers, special symbols, uppercase, and lowercase letters. Such a password may be difficult to remember, but it will make it much harder for hackers to breach your security systems. Remember, just like burglars, hackers are looking for easy targets, and if your password is “querty123”, it’s as if you’re inviting them in. Remember that every connection counts and that if you want your smart home to be secure, you should follow the best practices for all devices on your network, whether they’re printers, thermostats, light bulbs, or refrigerators.
In theory, every smart device can be attacked. In reality, some devices are likelier to be targeted:
- Most likely: small or rudimentary smart devices that don’t support too many security features, such as smart doorbells or sprinklers. Because of their location, these devices can be accessed by any passer-by.
- Least likely: home appliances like refrigerators or ovens.
In addition to having strong passwords for every smart device connected to your network, you should also change the default password on your router and tighten the security settings.
3. Using unauthorized apps to control your devices could invite criminals into your home.
You need an app to control your smart home devices. Still, if that app isn’t authorized or doesn’t respect the latest cybersecurity standards, hackers will exploit its vulnerabilities to breach your system. When selecting an app to control your devices, always make sure it comes from a reliable, verified developer and that you’re downloading it from the official source. If the app isn’t authorized, hackers can use it to impersonate you, access your data, or control IoT devices on your behalf. During installation, pay close attention to the app’s permissions and don’t let it access data you’re uncomfortable with.
Another way to prevent unauthorized access via your apps is to make sure they’re always up to date. When a smart home app is updated, it doesn’t just get new features or a shiny new design. It also gets security patches so that it can block hacking attempts. When comparing smart home apps, choose the ones from reliable developers who have a good track record for security. Turn on automatic updates, and if the app developer hasn’t released an update in a long time, you might want to look for other options.
Smart devices are a great perk of the modern, interconnected lifestyle, but they can expose you to cybersecurity threats if you’re not careful. To prevent hackers from gaining access to your personal data, encrypt your home network by installing a VPN, use strong passwords and two-factor authentication, and update the apps that control your devices.