Business Owners at Home: 7 Simple Steps to Keep Your Smart Home from Getting Hacked

Date: October 07, 2019

Content provided by Liberty Mutual

Installing smart devices can increase the security of your home by deterring would-be intruders or alerting you to potential problems like a water leak or fire. But if you leave them unsecured, these devices can also open a virtual window of opportunity to other threats, specifically hackers.

Wondering why someone would want to hack into your smart thermostat? Simply put, all of your smart technology is connected to your home Wi-Fi network, so a hacker could effectively gain access to the rest of your digital information by accessing these devices.

Hackers have also been known to direct thousands of poorly-secured smart home devices in what’s called distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.1 Essentially, hackers can hijack your smart home devices and make them send messages to an outside computer via the internet. The targeted computer can become overwhelmed by the avalanche of data, often going offline. Securing your smart home technology will protect it from becoming a “soldier in a hacker’s army.”

But don’t let these threats deter you from installing smart home devices. Fortunately, it’s easy and affordable to protect your home from invisible hackers. Here are some tips to prevent smart home hacking.

1. Change Default Passwords and User Names
This may seem obvious, but it’s the first step to keeping your entire network secure. The smart devices you purchase come with seemingly difficult and random passwords, but hackers are adept at finding them online. Always change the default passwords on any device, smart or otherwise, that hooks into your network. Your password should be complex, and capitalization variation is a bonus. Set alerts to remind yourself to regularly change passwords, just in case.

Pro Tip: Change the username on any new smart device whenever possible. It shouldn’t be easy for a hacker to pinpoint your personal devices or network, so don’t include identifying characteristics, like last name or street number.

2. Use a Separate Network for Your Smart Devices
Keeping your smart devices on a separate network from your personal data is also recommended.2 For example, set up two or more Wi-Fi networks, and keep your personal computers, smartphones, and tablets on one, and your smart home devices on the other. This small step will keep general web use/banking/shopping information in a separate virtual space from vulnerable home devices.

Many routers can easily handle two or more networks, or you can choose to establish a second internet connection. A virtual local area network (VLAN) can also split an internet connection for the purpose, plus it sorts traffic, keeping one compromised device from affecting others.

3. Use the Cloud
Consider using the cloud to maintain security if you have lots of devices. Cloud-based services are typically very effective at securing home automation devices.3 Although they typically involve a fee, cloud options also provide a certain amount of convenience, since you can access all of your connected devices in the same place. Before choosing a cloud service, however, do your homework and find one that is reputable and offers the highest-level security possible for your budget. Then, be sure to choose a complex password.

Pro Tip: Virtual private networks (VPN) are useful because they allow you to connect securely to your home network, even from far away.4 VPNs are virtually invisible, so no one else will be able to see or influence any of the movements you make on your smart home devices.

4. Lock Your Router
Home routers let dozens of devices share the same Internet connection.3 Routers are cost-effective and convenient, but if yours is compromised, the rest of your devices are too. Frequently change your router’s password to one involving varying letters, symbols, and numbers. Also, regularly check to make sure that the router has the latest firmware installed, and that the Wi-Fi encryption method is strong. One compromised device can also impact your router, so be sure to regularly run malware protection and anti-virus checks on your computers.

How secure is your smart home? Hackers are using smart home devices to access critical household data. Find out how to stop them here.

5. Use Multifactor Authentication
Traditionally, simply entering a username and password has been enough to gain secure access to a device or account online. But more and more people and companies are using two-factor authentication, which adds an extra question or step to ensure that the correct person is logging in. If you can, use multifactor authentication on devices, apps, email, and websites since they are all potential portals into your home network and other smart devices.2 Check the “settings” sections of apps and websites to opt in, and also consider using a biometric authentication, like a thumbprint scan, when it’s available. Anything you can do to make it more difficult for hackers to break in will make your home safer and more electronically secure.

Pro Tip: Avoid using public Wi-Fi, especially to manipulate smart home devices. Hackers can worm their way in using unsecured connections.

6. Stay on Top of Security Updates
It seems like a shiny new smart device would be up-to-date on firmware, but it’s not likely since products often sit on the shelf for months before they’re purchased. Firmware updates typically include critical security improvements as well as new features. Fortunately, they’re easy to access by visiting the manufacturer’s website for updates. Set a regular alert to check for new firmware since most smart devices don’t prompt you when an update is available.

7. Install Malware Protection and Keep It Current
Your computers, tablets, and mobile devices should be outfitted with reputable malware protection.1 Tricky hackers can segue into your smart home devices by hacking into the app you use to control them, which is much easier than attacking the device directly. Some malware protection is free, but others come at a nominal fee, which is worth the price for the protection they provide. Be sure to select protection that is reputable and authenticated, however, since malware can sometimes be hidden within phony brands. Once you’ve chosen a strong malware protection program, be sure to run it regularly.

Once you’ve updated your home with smart technology, the next step is securing that technology from would-be intruders. By preventing problems or catching them early on, you’re both protecting your home and helping your smart devices safely and effectively do their jobs.

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