“Hackers use smart refrigerator to watch family!” You might have seen an eyebrow-raising headline such as this about an intruder gaining access to a smart home device. The truth is, it does happen, but not because hackers are interested in spying on you. Most often, your smart devices are simply pawns in a larger game, and hackers want to use your device to get to your personal banking and identity information.
Like any pest, there are things you can do to deter hackers from ever entering your home. We compiled these top 10 tips to serve as a guide for keeping your Wi-Fi-connected smart appliances secure.
1. Stick to established brands.
When it comes to purchasing the latest smart appliance, it’s best to stay away from brand names you don’t recognize. Go with a company that has been around for a while, which means it should have a large stockpile of customer reviews you can read.
Established brands are also more likely to have had the time to go through several rounds of software updates to eliminate bugs. While name brands aren’t invulnerable to hacks, they have reputations to uphold and will move quickly to fix an exposed flaw in their software.
2. Update the device’s software.
Make sure to register every device with the manufacturer in order to keep the software up to date. Most experts emphasize regular software updates as the best way to keep your devices secure. This is because when hackers find a device running an old version, they already have ready-made strategies for accessing it.
Many established brands update their software automatically or will send out emails or notifications to registered devices when a new update is available. This goes for updates to your smartphone as well because you’ll be using it often to manage your smart appliances.
3. Take your passwords seriously!
Yes, it’s a bit baffling that the humble password system of decades-yore is still our main line of defense when it comes to protecting our most high-tech devices. But this is why you need to make them as strong as possible. Change default passwords immediately. And it should go without saying that you should avoid common words or numbers that are easy to guess, so no using your birthday or 12345. You’re better than that!
Password best practices include:
- Long passwords
- Random strings of characters
- Spacing out special characters
Consider using a password manager to up your security game, or try an extension such as Password Checkup by Google, which will automatically check to see if your credentials were exposed by any data breaches whenever you sign into an account.
4. Enable two-factor authentication.
It’s time to do the two-step — for authentication, that is. Two-factor authentication usually involves a one-time code sent to your cellphone, which you must enter within a short amount of time in order to log on to an account from a new device, or even at all.
If your smart appliances offer this, use it. Many established companies have made two-factor authentication a priority for their connected devices because it eliminates the easiest route for most security hacks, even if your password has been compromised.
5. Make sure your network is secure.
Securing your network means investing in a good router. If you’re using an older router that doesn’t support WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 2) security encryption in its settings, then it’s time to get a new one. WPA2 has been used on all Wi-Fi hardware since 2006 and is continuously updated with the latest security, authentication and encryption protections.
Make sure the firewall on your router is enabled. Change the router’s default name and password, and make both something unusual that’s not associated with you or your street address. It’s also a good idea to hide your network from view, which you can do in the router’s settings menu.
6. Set up a second Wi-Fi network.
Smart home devices tend to be more vulnerable to security risks than PCs or smartphones, so many experts recommend setting up a second Wi-Fi network specifically for your smart appliances and devices. This way, the Wi-Fi traffic from them stays isolated from the browsing activity on your computers, tablets and phones, which is more likely to contain sensitive information, such as banking passwords.
It’s also a good idea to set up a guest network for visitors. Many routers allow you to create multiple networks, each with their own name and password. And avoid public Wi-Fi networks, which means no checking the contents of your smart refrigerator from your phone while using the coffee shop’s free Wi-Fi.
7. Consider professional installation.
If IT isn’t your strong suit, many leading appliance and home-security providers offer professional installation that comes with smart home integration. The technician can handle any necessary hardwiring for you and also help with security-related questions. You can have them check the default privacy and security settings for your new appliance or device, in case you want to change them, as well as disable any features you may not need.
8. Unplug devices that aren’t in use.
When you go out of town, get in the habit of unplugging appliances that won’t be active. This makes them inaccessible to hackers and will even save money on your energy bill as a bonus.
Obviously, you’ll need to leave on important appliances, such as the thermostat, refrigerator or video doorbell, but a Wi-Fi-connected TV and speakers, vacuum or microwave can be turned off. Also, watch out for power outages while you are away, and check to make sure any outages didn’t leave your devices in an unsecure state.
9. Factory-reset devices before getting rid of them.
In the event you decide to sell, give away or toss out any of your smart devices, be sure to read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions in order to completely remove all of your data. If you don’t, then whoever gets their hands on it could have full access to your information, and even be able to communicate with other devices on your network.
10. Use an identity theft protection service.
Sadly, there’s no way to ever secure your information 100 percent, short of going off the grid and living on a remote mountaintop. If you’ve invested in a smart appliance or a full-blown smart home, it’s not a bad idea to consider an identity theft protection service. For as low as $20 per month, these services will monitor your credit report and personal information, alert you of suspicious activity and help restore any financial charges or identity breaches.
Smart appliances put the latest technology at your fingertips, but they can also leave your personal information vulnerable to hacks, especially if you don’t take the proper steps to make them as secure as possible. If you follow these tips, you can enjoy the convenience of a smart home while mitigating the security risks. Cinch Home Services is dedicated to bringing you the best information to keep your home protected. Subscribe to our newsletter and visit us on Facebook for more tech-friendly tips.