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Smart Devices: How Safe Are They?

The market for smart home products is worth an estimated $40 billion, with 65% of Americans already owning at least one device or system and a majority of those planning to purchase more in the future. People embrace this trend to increase security, improve energy efficiency, or gain more control over their home’s day-to-day functions.

Internet-connected devices do things that traditional systems cannot, but they also expose you to a different set of risks. Here are some of those concerns, and the steps you can take to avoid them.

Smart Tech Security Risks

If you switch to smart home products, you are installing remote control systems that you can monitor and manage via a smartphone or other internet-capable device. Common functions include checking the inventory in your fridge, monitoring package delivery through a doorbell camera, or setting the thermostat via your phone.

These capabilities bring convenience and peace of mind, but they can also lead to new risks. Professional installation can lower these dangers, but you still need to be aware of potential problems.

Targeted Attacks

Your smart home devices have embedded computers that record your login information, preferences, and other data. This information is vulnerable, especially if the device connects to other devices in your home.

Since smart home technology isn’t as mature as smartphones or personal computers, the devices may have weaker security systems. Hackers can gain access and then see information as it flows throughout your network. They can steal passwords, gain personal data, and even see credit card or bank details.

Password Exploitation

A smart home hub, which handles connections for all the devices in the network, often has a weak password, or it retains the factory password. While these logins may be easier to remember, they are similarly easy to steal. Once they have this code, a hacker can access other devices on your network and potentially steal valuable data.

Location Tracking

Smart home devices often contain data about where you live. If they breach your security, a hacker can see this data. Also, a hacker can send you a malicious link in an email that mimics an official one from your security company. When you click on this link, it installs a location-tracking tool on your network.

Furthermore, if they have access to your home hub, they may be able to see when you arm your alarm or give other clues that you are leaving your home unattended.

Appliance or Property Damage

While all smart devices can be compromised, those that control critical functions present unique issues. If a hacker gains access to your smart oven, for example, they could increase the temperature and create a fire risk. They could also cause your HVAC system to malfunction or disarm your security system so that your house sits unprotected.

Secret Recordings

Smart home speakers can eavesdrop on your conversations if compromised. There are instances of product manufacturers listening to customers to collect data for advertising purposes. These speakers use voice recognition software and are always on and "listening" for these cues. In addition to manufacturers, hackers who have breached your network can use the speaker to hear much of what you say.

Outdated Software

Smart home software gets updated to improve security. Companies make these changes to address security threats. If you do not apply these updates, your system could still be vulnerable.

Third-Party Flaws

Many smart home devices integrate third-party platforms and mobile apps to increase their functionality. These add-ons need access to your system. If they aren’t properly secured, a hacker could use them to gain control of your smart home hub.

Smart Tech Risk Prevention

While the list of potential smart device issues might be a little intimidating, the good news is that you can take steps to limit all the risks. By taking the necessary steps to secure your smart home and associated devices, you will cover all the obvious bases and thwart hackers looking for easy targets.

Secure Network

The very first step to defending your smart home system is to secure your network. You can isolate the devices by creating a separate guest network that does not connect to your personal computers. This gap will make it impossible for hackers to gain access to sensitive data even if they manage to breach the security of your smart fridge or thermostat.

Strong Passwords

You wouldn’t use a weak lock for your house; you shouldn’t use weak passwords for your network, accounts, or devices either. Password managers can generate strong login details that a hacker could never guess, even with an algorithm to help them. Password managers also remind you to change your password regularly, so even if someone guesses them, they will not have access for long.

Two-Factor Authentication   

Two-factor authentication (2FA) adds another layer of security. It requires you to receive a separate one-time code via text or email. Even if someone has all your passwords, they would not be able to access your accounts without also stealing your phone. Also, with 2FA, you will know if someone tries to use your password without permission because you will get an unsolicited login code.

Reputable Suppliers

Smart home devices come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of security. Not only should you get ones manufactured by reputable companies, but you should also hire a reputable supplier and installer. Not only can you be sure that the installation process is smooth, but you can also often ask the technician about any special security considerations. Reputable suppliers may test products for security before and after installing, and they can also ensure the latest software updates are in place before installation.

Trustworthy Third-Party Apps

Any application distributed from someone other than the manufacturer of a device is considered a third-party app. When downloading apps for your smart home devices, be sure to only get them from official app stores, such as the PlayStore on Android and the AppStore on iOS. Products on these platforms are typically vetted for security and reliability.

Change App Permissions, Location Sharing

Many smart home apps collect data about usage to improve performance and target marketing. Location information and Bluetooth connectivity can enhance performance, but they can also open back doors for hackers. You can change app permissions and location sharing unless those things are necessary for full functionality. If you are worried about a possible breach, you can perform a hard factory reset to wipe all sensitive data and start over from scratch.

Avoid Public Wi-Fi

Public networks are typically insecure, and hackers can easily monitor all the traffic going in and out of a device connected to one. They can also send you malware, which can make it easier to take full control of your devices. Use a private home network whenever possible. If you live in a condo or apartment with a public network, you can consider using cellular data for your home devices instead of Wi-Fi.