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Personal Cybersecurity

Tips to Keep Your Smart Home Cybersecure

5 Minute Read

A smart home is one where multiple devices -- ranging from central air thermostats and appliances to security systems -- are connected to the Internet to allow the user remote access to their home. This interconnectedness, the Internet of Things (IoT), has led to the home and task automation that makes our day-to-day activities more efficient.

As smart home technologies continue to get smarter, automation -- and our reliance on it -- will grow in tandem. In the near future, for example, your fridge may have a sensor that captures that you are running low on milk, then connects to the Internet and purchases milk from an online store. Currently, smart fridges with tablets already exist and provide you access to your calendar and the ability to create notes and shopping lists on the fridge itself.

A smart home might make life a little easier but it also opens your physical home to the threats of the cyber world. Even more mainstream gadgets, such as voice-activated assistants, webcams, and wireless printers, are susceptible to hacking as they are all dependent on Internet connectivity. A cybercriminal could hack your personal home network, or the application you use on your device to control the gadget, and obtain personal information or invade your privacy. They could, for example, hack the webcam that you use to communicate with your loved ones and then monitor your moves 24x7. But even more dangerous, cybercriminals can hack into cameras, smart locks, smart doorbells or other devices actively used for security purposes that are connected to the Internet. Criminals can even completely disable them to access your home and commit a physical crime.

It is also important to be mindful of other applications of the IoT, such as smart cars. For example, a smart car with different applications connected to the web is susceptible to hacking, allowing a cybercriminal to access your car system and take control behind the wheel to cause an accident.

Simple steps to shore up the security of your smart home

Below are some general suggestions you may want to consider when purchasing smart home technology:

  • First and foremost, decide if you really need that device or gadget -- the latest trend might not be worth the potential risk.
  • Create very strong and unique passwords to access each device.
  • Only purchase devices from reputable companies and do your investigative consumer research on each product. Look at what IT and cybersecurity experts are saying about the IT specifications and security of the device.
  • It all comes down to connectivity. Ensure your home network is Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) secure and that your provider is a reputable company. Change your home network password to one of your own creation that is strong and contains letters, numbers and characters.
  • Similarly, obtain a data plan from a reputable company for your mobile devices.
  • Avoid accessing applications for your devices via hot spots or public open Wi-Fi, as these connections are inherently insecure.
  • Make sure software/applications are always up to date with security patches from manufacturer.
  • Keep devices (desktop, laptop, mobile phone, tablet) used to remotely control your smart home both physically and cyber secure (i.e., have anti-malware tools installed and use and update them). Keep those devices with you at all times.
  • Keep in mind the amount of personal data/tracking that the applications of these devices may be collecting from you. Manage the privacy and security setting of each of those apps.

Want to learn more? The Federal Trade Commission has put together a report from a workshop on these issues. The report provides further guidance and information on the Internet of Things.


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