The connected home and “smart” technology provides many benefits, but it also brings security concerns. The reality is that any networked device is effectively a door between your home and the world at large. You therefore need to think in terms of taking the same sort of precautions with them as you do with physical doors. Then you can enjoy their benefits without worrying about hackers.
Take care of physical security before you worry about cyber security
Fortunately, the public is becoming more aware of the need for cyber security. It is important to remember that you do not pay attention to cyber security instead of physical security. You pay attention to cyber security as well as physical security. There is no point in protecting your smart devices from online threats if you leave them vulnerable to physical ones by being too casual about home security. Even in the safest and friendliest of neighborhoods, there are no 100% guarantees.
Be realistic about the level of threat
The idea of the IT genius using their powers to hack into any system they like is very popular in film and TV, possibly because it can be so convenient in terms of moving on a plot quickly. This stereotype is probably grounded in a certain degree of truth. There are some highly-talented people working legitimately in IT and therefore it is likely that there are also some highly-talented people using their skills for criminal purposes.
On the other hand, highly-talented people are, by definition, in a small minority, and someone who does have the sort of talent needed to pull of major feats of IT wizardry is arguably rather unlikely to waste their skills hacking into the average family home to stalk the occupants, turn their lives upside down, and generally cause mayhem. In the real world, you are far more likely to be targeted by digital “sneak thieves” who can be deterred with basic vigilance and security. With that in mind, here are five tips on how to use smart devices safely.
1. Only allow smart devices from reputable manufacturers and suppliers into your home
Outside of emergency situations, when you are assisting someone who is clearly in distress, very few people would let a complete stranger enter their home without some valid form of identification (and a clear reason for being there). However, many people buy smart devices from manufacturers without any sort of obvious physical or online presence or even meaningful reviews from people who understand the topic. These devices may indeed be cheaper than their brand-name counterparts, but brand-name manufacturers put their reputation on the line with each and every product. That does not mean they will never show security flaws, but it does mean that the manufacturers in question are highly motivated to deal with any flaws which are discovered (and to be seen to be dealing with them) so that consumers feel that they can have confidence in the brand’s products. Brand-name manufacturers are also far more likely to provide relevant security guidance on their websites and to update their devices (and/or the servers on which they run) as circumstances dictate.
2. Never underestimate the importance of strong passwords
Leaving a device without password protection (or just using the manufacturer’s defaults) is giving cyber criminals an open invitation to attack it. Resist the temptation to use obvious passwords or slight variations thereon (like passw8rd) or to recycle passwords you use for other systems and services. If you have an issue with managing numerous strong passwords (which is entirely understandable if you are creating unique, strong passwords for every system or service which demands them), then you may find it useful to use password-manager software. If you write passwords down, then obviously, keep them away from the relevant devices and if possible find some way of disguising or encrypting them.
3. Keep your home router secure
Your router is the gatekeeper for the internet traffic which comes in and out of your home. Securing it properly will go a long way towards preventing intrusions even if there are security flaws in your smart devices. You therefore need to make sure you understand who is responsible for maintaining the security on your router and what, if anything, you need to do. If your router was provided by your internet service provider (which might also provide you with phone and TV services), then the answer to this question may well be nothing at all or it may be just that you need to change the default password. If, on the other hand, you are responsible for its maintenance, then you need to make sure that you care for it appropriately, for example by installing anti-virus and firewall software.
4. Disconnect your key smart devices from the internet unless you are actually using them
Key smart devices are ones you use for sensitive tasks such as online banking, so typically they would be your desktop/laptop and these days probably your tablet and/or smartphone. While it is really easy and convenient just to leave these connected to your WiFi all the time, whenever they are connected to the internet, they are, in principle, liable to online attacks. So, one of the simplest security measures you can take is to disconnect these devices from the internet unless you are actually using them. You do not need to turn them off, you just need to turn off the WiFi connection which can usually be done with a few mouse clicks or button presses.
5. Apply security updates to smart devices promptly, ideally automatically
You may have noticed from your smartphone or tablet that apps are usually updated on a fairly regular basis. With these devices, there can be a strong argument for applying the updates manually (albeit as quickly as possible) so that they can be downloaded over a WiFi connection rather than using up your device’s data allowance. Smart devices are typically always connected to WiFi and so should ideally be set to apply manufacturers’ updates immediately for maximum security.
This article was written by Katie Mills from Clearwells.co.uk. Katie is an expert in the field of home design and products and her writing and guest blogs are in high demand.