Smart technology and smart devices are increasingly essential tools in our daily lives.
And they’re increasingly common.
It’s estimated that about 35% of households in the U.S. had at least one smart speaker and that this would increase to 75% by 2025. In 2020 there are about 20.4 billion (with a “b”) smart devices connected to the internet around the globe. In fact, there are 26 times more devices connected than people that are connected.
Popular smart devices include home alarms and sensors, outlet controls, smart sprinkler control systems, smart speakers and assistants, and even smart fridges.
While these devices can be useful, they can also bring some risks.
Because they connect to the internet, smart devices are vulnerable to attacks from hackers and cybercriminals. These devices, unlike, say, your laptop or desktop computer, usually have little built-in security. This makes them particularly vulnerable to attacks or malware.
The data that these devices collect and transmit can tell criminals about you.
For example, accessing your smart thermostat can tell criminals if you’re away from your home or not. Or, hackers can use ransomware to demand you pay them money in exchange for getting your system working again. If you’ve shared information with a digital assistant, like passwords or financial information, hackers may also have access to that information. These can open your home to burglary, identity theft, among others. Hackers can even pick up information about your passwords from discarded smart lightbulbs.
If that’s not enough, the idea that someone else is listening to you or watching you is just plain creepy. There have been several high-profile reports now of hackers gaining access to security cameras inside people's homes with the Ring smart security camera product. In one case, a hacker taunted a woman in her home through her smart devices.
So what can you do to make sure that you maintain your privacy with your smart devices? Here are some tips.
Increase Security on Your Wi-fi Router
Your wi-fi router is like the front door to your network. Like your real front door, you want to make sure your router is secure. You can maximize security with the following tips.
Tip 1: Change your router name.
Changing the name of your router makes it more difficult for possible criminals to identify a make and model number of your router, so it’s harder for them to hack. Make sure you choose an unusual name that doesn’t give away any personal information. Also, make sure the name is unrelated to the password you choose.
Tip 2: Change default passwords.
Many smart device manufacturers use default passwords or algorithms to create password defaults. Cybercriminals and hackers may already know these. Make sure you change the password from the default settings. If the device you are considering buying doesn’t let you change the default password, consider choosing a different product.
Tip 3: Create a strong, unique password.
Strong, unique passwords are still one of the best ways you can protect yourself from being hacked. You should, of course, make sure to avoid obvious passwords like your birthdate, “password”, and sequential numbers like “123456”. But more than that, make sure your password is long and is made up of a variety of numbers, letters, capitals, and symbols. And make it unique from your other devices. When creating your password, don’t put the capital letter at the beginning and the numbers at the end — mix it up.
Tip 4: Create a guest network for visitors.
You may want to give your guests internet access while they are visiting, but sharing your wi-fi password creates a vulnerability in your security. You can solve this by creating a separate network for guests that isn’t used for your smart devices and has a different password.
Make Your Device Settings Appropriate for Your Needs
Your smart device likely comes with a number of features you may not need. Smart TVs are now starting to come with built-in cameras (What is more big brother than that?). Even on your smart assistant, there may be settings you’re not going to use. Here are some tips for setting up your device to maximize privacy and security.
Tip 5: Review your device’s settings.
Your device will likely come with a number of default privacy and security settings. Take a moment when you’re setting it up to review those settings and make any changes that are appropriate. Some of the settings may be useful to the manufacturer, but not necessarily useful to you.
Tip 6: Disable features you do not need.
You may want a smart assistant to play music while you’re doing something else; you may not necessarily need to access it while you’re out of the home. Think about features like remote access, the microphone, and the camera. Disable these if you don’t need them. If there isn’t a setting for disabling a camera, a piece of black tape can be a low-tech solution.
Tip 7: Update your software consistently.
Companies often update their software when they notice a security flaw. Updating software helps keep it up-to-date and improve security. Make sure you do your updates as soon as possible. Consider setting your device to update automatically.
Tip 8: Review the devices you have in your network.
Sometimes newer devices offer more privacy and security features than older ones (but, sometimes they don’t!). Have a look at what’s on your network and consider whether a newer model would offer more security.
Tip 9: Use two-factor authentification.
Two-factor authentification is when you need another step in addition to the device password to access it. This could be a code that is sent to your phone or a link in an email. Two-factor authentification is more secure than a simple password, so if your device has this option, consider using it.
Act With Security in Mind
Our own behaviour is sometimes the most important factor in maintaining our security. Here are some things to keep in mind to maintain the security of your devices.
Tip 10: Install security software.
Several companies offer security software for your computer and smart devices. These can help protect you from emerging malware threats. Consider purchasing this kind of software, and make sure it’s from a reputable company.
Tip 11: Avoid public wi-fi networks.
While it may be convenient to manage your smart device from a public café, try to avoid it. Using unsecured public networks leave you more open to attacks or someone snooping your data. If you have to use a public network, consider using a virtual private network (VPN) to keep it more secure.
These tips should help make your smart devices a little less vulnerable to attacks from bad actors. Unfortunately, no IT network is completely immune from such attacks. These tips will simply help you reduce the risk of such attacks. Ultimately, you may wish to consider what the benefits of these devices are and whether they’re worth the risks to privacy and security.
If they’re not, you may even consider declining the smart device, and going back to playing music the old fashioned way — by pressing a button.
A version of this post was originally published on Geek Insider.