8 Essentials for Securing Your Smart Home and Protecting Your Privacy
As you introduce more internet connected smart devices into your home and turn it into a “smart” home, you’re also likely making it an “insecure” home.
Each smart device is a digital entry point to your personal life and your home network. They capture and hold a treasure trove of personal information like your birth date, entertainment habits, medical needs, energy use, diet and sleep patterns, and even crazy things like the layout of your home.
If you own internet connected devices such as smart speakers, TVs, thermostats, fridges, security cameras, doorbells, door locks, robot vacuums, etc., your privacy and security is at stake.
In a best-case scenario, the companies behind these data gathering devices will use the information they collect to launch targeted marketing campaigns at you and sell you more stuff. Or perhaps just sell your consumer profile to the highest bidder.
In a worst-case scenario, predators will hack your home network, steal your identity and money from your online bank accounts, or hijack your home security and camera systems to watch you, assault you or burglarize you. Scary, right? Even if you’ve given up on fighting for your privacy, this possibility should wake you up.
Bottom line, if you’re investing money in the coolest new technology and making yourself a smart home, you must also invest some time, energy, and resources to protect it.
Here are eight ways to re-enforce your home cyber defenses:
1. Secure Your Wi-Fi Router
Your Wi-Fi router is the doorway to your smart home. Creating a safer smart home starts with your router. It’s what connects all your IoT devices and makes them so valuable. Here’s what you can do to set up a secure Wi-Fi router:
- Change the router’s default name. Don’t stick with your router’s default name, which is usually its make and model. Change it to an unusual name that’s not associated with you or your address. Don’t give away any personal identifiers.
- Set a strong Wi-Fi password. Set the router’s password to something truly unique. Use complex passwords made up of letters, numbers, and symbols. The longer the better.
- Use the Highest Level of Encryption. Set your router’s encryption level to the highest level possible (currently WPA2 or WPA3).
2. Create Separate Wi-Fi Networks
Create a separate Wi-Fi login on your router for your “smart home network”. This is what you connect all your IoT (Internet of Things) devices to, and it’s separate from your primary home Wi-Fi login for your computers and phones.
This means relatives, friends and other guests are not logging into your smart home network, and it’s only accessible by you. If you work from home, you may want to consider creating yet another “work” network login to keep your work separate from everything else.
3. Turn Off Listening Modes
Do you ever feel like someone is eavesdropping on you? If you own a smart speaker or smart phone, your concern is valid. They’re pretty much always listening.
Nearly all voice-activated technology uses microphones that listen for key words and vocal cues. Companies like Apple, Facebook and Google hear all your commands and can potentially pick up conversations if your device thinks it hears a key word. This also true for many smart TVs and a variety of other devices with voice activation and camera features.
If you want to take control of your privacy and keep conversations “behind closed doors,” turn off smart speakers when not in use, and change your phone’s privacy settings to turn off your microphone for everything but phone calls and voice-to-text features.
With your devices no longer listening, you can relax and feel a bit less paranoid about using your tech. You can always turn the microphones back on again if you want to use them. Just make sure you’re careful about what you say when they’re on — and don’t forget to turn them off when you’re finished.
4. Protect Your Home Security System
As crazy as it sounds, an insecure home alarm device can be a major security risk to you and your family! A hacked security system could give predators permission to use or disable your cameras, unlock doors to let a burglar in, or even lock you out of your own home.
Be sure to connect your home alarm system to your segregated smart home Wi-Fi network. Also be sure your security hardware (cameras, locks and panel) stays updated and patched by the manufacturer.
5. Disable Features You Don’t Use
Many IoT devices give you the ability to control them from anywhere with your smart phone. But if you only use your smart home devices when you are home, consider disabling remote access. Likewise, some devices such as smart speakers have Bluetooth connectivity in addition to Wi-Fi. If you don’t use the Bluetooth feature, turn it off.
Smart TVs come with voice control, but this feature often goes unused. It may sound paranoid but an active mic on a TV, if hacked, can also be used to pry on your conversations. Disabling features you don’t use is all about blocking as many entry points as possible.
6. Use Authorized Apps Only
Many smart devices allow homeowners to remotely turn on and off lights, turn on ovens, or open and close garage doors by integrating third-party mobile apps. But apps without secure authorization may allow people other than you to impersonate you and operate your devices if they get their hands on your phone.
Fake or unauthorized apps can be used by hackers to compromise your smart phone, potentially giving them the ability to do things like remotely lock and unlock your front door. Use only authorized apps and platforms to control your smart devices.
7. Keep Your Devices Updated
Smart devices need to be kept updated as the manufacturer releases fixes for security flaws over time. Outdated software and firmware on devices can make it easier for cyber criminals to exploit them.
The best way to protect your devices is to buy from reputable brands that make security a top priority, and where possible set them to update automatically when new software is available. This way, you’ll have the latest security patches that close known loopholes, minimize the risk of malware infections, and keep your smart home running smoothly and safely.
Your home Wi-Fi router and some smart devices may not automatically update. So be sure to do a manual check a few times a year on these devices and install any pending updates.
8. Enable Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
Multi-factor authentication is an added layer of security requiring a second form of validation or proof that it’s really you logging into your device. You see this commonly with a one-time pin or verification code sent to your phone or email that you must enter to confirm you are authorized to login.
Most smart devices have the multi-factor authentication feature available by default. Be sure to enable this where you can. For devices that don’t have this feature built into their apps, see if you can enable two-factor authentication (2FA) by using third-party apps such as Google Authenticator.
Taking Charge of Your Home Cyber Defense
You can purchase the most expensive Wi-Fi routers and smart devices from top brands and yet, at the end of the day, your personal and home cyber defense is in your hands.
Take inventory of what devices you have right now that connect to your home Wi-Fi. If you have old devices that are not receiving security updates and patches from the manufacturer, consider replacing them with newer technology. Do a factory reset on old devices before giving them away.
Carefully look for smart devices where you are in control of your privacy and security. Be sure you can enable full privacy settings and turn off mics and cameras easily. Or consider whether there are good alternatives for devices that don’t connect to the internet and your home network.
Using the recommendations here as a starting point you can take action now to better protect yourself and your loved ones.
Getting Expert Help
If you don’t have the time or would rather have trusted experts help you maintain a safe and private smart home, you can subscribe to a personal and home cyber protection service such as iDefend that provides you with a complete protection plan for a surprisingly low cost.
Take advantage of a getting a free personal and home cyber defense checkup done by an expert from the INVISUS iDefend team by calling (801) 724-6211 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.