Is Your Smart Home an Invitation to Criminals?

Americans are obsessed with smart homes, and 2017 was a big year for smart home devices. 2018 is off to a great race to pass other years in this space. The years beyond 2018 will be no different.

Where else will "smart" go?

Alphabet, Google’s parent company, saw its segment that includes smart thermostat Nest approach $1 billion last year, and Amazon’s Alexa device was predicted to drive $10 billion in sales by 2020. Needless to say, there’s a lot of money in smart homes.

Follow the money...

There is even more money in it than you realize? Smart devices can make systems, buildings, and entire businesses vulnerable to hackers. Organizations that stake out cheaters and criminals aren’t even safe. This space will need to be tightened up. One U.S. casino was hacked last year via its smart fish tank. A FISH TANK! Brilliant. While extra safety precautions had been applied to the fish tank, hackers were still able to penetrate the device to access data and send it to Finland before the leak was able to be shut down.

If criminals applied the same ingenuity to your home that they devoted to that casino’s fish habitat, you’d be a veritable fish in a barrel. According to Zoomdata, IoT data can be transmitted anywhere from milliseconds to 60-second intervals. Whether your smart blender is transmitting the data or your Google Home is, criminals who have their finger on your home’s pulse have a lot of information to leverage.

So how do you stay safe?

1. Do all the security updates -- even when they’re inconvenient.  

Software updates are like buzzing flies, easy to brush away out of annoyance. These updates are pushed out because manufacturers have discovered vulnerabilities with their software and are trying to prevent further problems by “patching” the existing problem on your device’s software.

Past updates have been issued to prevent everything from Macs being turned into spy devices to making sure a pacemaker’s battery isn’t depleted by a hacker. Think of someone utilizing the view from your smart refrigerator’s screen or your Alexa’s voice recording, and make those updates.

2. Separate your computer from the fray.

Malware has always been a cause for concern, so it’s important to invest in antivirus protection for your computer. (While people used to believe Macs were immune from malware attacks, that’s no longer the case — one new virus enabled hackers to not only view sensitive information but to also take control of a user’s mouse and take screenshots.)

To avoid accidentally downloading a virus masquerading as antivirus protection, use a well-known brand like Norton, McAfee, or Sophos.

Don't just use something that looks legit that pops up on your screen. Make sure you contact them. However, that’s not where your protection of your computer should end. Make a point to not use public Wi-Fi, no matter how tempting it may be. While you may simply want to scroll social media while waiting for your Starbucks order, a hacker could be pulling credit card numbers from your laptop.

Even at home, avoid using the same internet connection for multiple computers — this opens up channels for a hacker to gain access to several computers at once. This doesn’t mean you need to buy separate internet lines (although you could); you can simply split an existing line with a virtual local area network (VLAN).

3. Play it smart with passwords.

This may seem obvious, but it’s vital to actually change the passwords on the devices you purchase. Every device has default settings, and smart hackers will simply do some research to figure out what the default is. Don't give them access to any device still using that original password. Change it as soon as you can.

In one truly terrifying incident, a hacker reportedly used a default password to gain entry to a baby monitor, using the opportunity to unleash obscenities at a toddler and her parents. When setting a new password, do the inconvenient thing again and set a complicated passcode that involves different letters, numbers, and symbols, as well as capitalization. When you can set the length, the longer, the better.

4. Invest in an IoT security device.

As an extra line of defense, you can buy a smart home firewall that protects your multiple smart devices from hackers. These security devices use the cloud to compile and analyze data and then “distribute” an update to any similar device.

The upside is that by protecting every device, you don’t have to worry about a criminal gaining access through one device you forgot to update — an IoT security device constantly monitors each item for threats once the item’s been incorporated into the system. Some well-known brands include Cujo, RATtrap, and Bitdefender Box.

You can still have the convenience -- we need it.

Smart homes add convenience and ease to your life, but you don’t have to give up your security or peace of mind simply because hackers can use your smart devices to their advantage. Instead, take extra steps to lock down your smart home. While you may feel like you live in a fishbowl, you can certainly stay safer than a tank of casino fish.