Gadgeteers BEWARE! Your smart home can turn on you!

It seems like everybody’s got a smart home to some extent these days – even Boomers. It doesn’t even seem unusual anymore to tell your refrigerator to add milk to the digital grocery list.

It's the convenience and efficiency that has people ‘smartening up’ their residences. You can control your lights and thermostat with a smartphone app, which means no more driving home through 100-degree weather and then waiting for the A/C to kick in. Having a virtual assistant like Alexa at your beck and call is also very handy.

Those things are all well and good, but even as we embrace the convenience, it's essential to consider the potential risks and take proactive steps to ensure that your smart home doesn't turn against you. Most consumers with smart homes don’t have IT services, let alone a Managed Services Provider (MSP) at their disposal.

Some vulnerabilities of smart home technology have been highlighted in Newspaper headlines. Recent headlines have shed light on the. The New York Post ran an article titled "Locked Out & Hacked: When Smart Homes Turn on Owners".

The New York Post article describes a few separate smart home nightmares, including the new owner of a smart home that unexpectedly got locked in because the prior owner had left preprogrammed settings, one of which was an 11:30 pm lockdown - the home told him it was time to go to bed and locked every door in the house.

Another victim was a woman terrorized by lights and sounds at home. It was not necessarily the smart home’s fault - it turned out that her ex-partner was maliciously manipulating the smart technology.

As homes get smarter, how can you avoid a similar experience? We'll explore some key strategies to protect your home and your privacy.

How do I secure my smart home?

1. Secure Your Network

Its network is the foundation of any smart home. Just as you wouldn't leave your front door wide open, you shouldn't neglect Wi-Fi security.

Here are best practices:

Default passwords are easily cracked. Change your router's default password to something strong and unique. While not commonplace, there are cases of hackers turning up the HVAC system to 100 degrees, then demanding a ransom to get control back.

Employ WPA3 encryption (look for Wi-Fi 6)

Create a separate guest network to isolate your smart devices from your main network.

Update your router's firmware on a regular basis to ensure that it's equipped with the latest Cybersecurity patches.

2. Strengthen Device Passwords

When you’re setting up your smart devices, be diligent about choosing strong, unique passwords. Avoid using easily guessable passwords like ‘123456,’ the world’s most common (and worst) password. Use a combination of upper and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols. For added security, consider using a password manager.

3. Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

A lot of smart home device manufacturers offer 2FA as an extra layer of security. By enabling 2FA you can keep people out. This is true even if someone manages to guess your password. They won't be able to get past the secondary authentication step. This provides an extra safeguard against unauthorized access.

4. Update Firmware Regularly

Firmware updates are essential for fixing security vulnerabilities in your smart devices. Manufacturers release these updates to patch discovered weaknesses. Make it a habit to check for firmware updates regularly and apply them promptly. ‘Out of Date’ means ‘Up for Grabs.’

5. Vet Your Devices

Don’t assume that all smart devices are created equal in terms of Cybersecurity. When choosing new devices for your smart home, research the manufacturer's reputation. Look for products that have a history of prompt updates and robust security features. Avoid purchasing devices from obscure or untrusted brands. Spend the money.

6. Isolate Sensitive Devices

Consider segregating your most sensitive (and potentially dangerous) devices onto a separate network, if possible. For example, use a dedicated network for:

  • Smart locks
  • Security cameras
  • HVAC
  • and other critical devices.

This will keep them separate from your less critical gadgets like smart bulbs, smart litter boxes (Yes, they are out there) or speakers. This way, even if a hacker compromises one network, the other devices remain secure.

7. Review App Permissions

Smart home apps often request access to various permissions on your devices. Before granting these permissions, scrutinize what data the app is trying to access. Decide whether it's necessary for the device's functionality. Restrict permissions to the least required for the device to operate.

8. Be Cautious with Voice Assistants

Don’t trust Alexa! Voice-activated assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant are incredibly convenient but can also pose privacy risks. Review your voice assistant's privacy settings. Be cautious about what information you share with them. Consider muting the microphone when you're not actively using it. This prevents unintended eavesdropping – all the data on Alexa is sent back to Amazon.

Have you ever spoken to someone about needing a new item, like a patio umbrella – and then see ads for them pop up on your phone? Don’t trust Alexa!

9. Check Your Devices Regularly

Check the status and activity of your smart devices regularly. Look for any unusual behavior, like devices turning on or off unexpectedly or unknown devices appearing on your network. If you notice anything suspicious, investigate and take prompt action.

10. Understand Your Device's Data Usage

Carefully examine your smart device's privacy policy. Understand how it uses your data. Some devices may collect and share your information with third parties, so having them is akin to inviting a spy to take up residency in your home. Your collected data can be, and very often IS, used for advertising or other purposes. Make informed decisions about the devices you bring into your home.

11. Stay Informed

Finally, stay informed about the latest developments in smart home Cybersecurity. Subscribe to security newsletters. Follow reputable tech blogs. Keep up with news articles like the one in the New York Post. The more you know, the better equipped you'll be to protect your smart home.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the problems with AI in smart homes?

Since new ‘wrinkles’ appear all the time, there is no definitive list. Some of the challenges include security and privacy concerns, data collection and sharing, data analytics, and latency.

There is also an unfulfilled need for explainable AI (XAI) solutions to improve user experience and trust by providing clear and understandable explanations of the system's behavior. Device manufacturers pitch what the device will do, not why it does what it does.

What does 2FA mean?

A two-factor authentication (2FA) system is a security enhancement that requires two separate, distinct forms of identification in order to access something. The first factor is usually a password, and the second most common factor is a code sent to your smartphone which you enter during your login. Biometrics are also becoming more commonplace: using fingerprint, retina, or facial recognition.

How do I stop Alexa from spying on me?

Alexa is always listening for voice cue, specifically its own name. Whenever you want Alexa to stay out of your business, press the mute button on any Echo device to turn off the microphone. A red light will display signaling that the microphone is disabled, and Alexa won't be able to eavesdrop or record anything you say – and transmit what you said back to Amazon.

What are the most vulnerable smart home devices?

According to Kaspersky, the most vulnerable “might include smart speakers, your internet router, your computer and your smartphone. Your smartphone, if hacked or stolen, could compromise your entire home security system, so make securing it your top priority by purchasing Android security or security for iOS devices.”

How secure is your network?

As a reputable member of the IT Support Los Angeles community since 2002, IT Support LA offers a FREE, no-risk network and security assessment. It is a non-intrusive scan that allows us to deliver a comprehensive report that is yours to keep. No strings, and no obligation to ever use our Managed IT Services.

The best defenses are expert Cybersecurity to protect your data from theft, and a top-notch Managed Services Provider to ensure continued reliability and defenses against newly emerging threats.

With our 100% Money Back Guarantee in writing, we offer a risk-free way for prospective clients to try us out. Because we do not require a ‘hard’ contract, our clients can fire us at any time with 30 days’ notice. We have to be good.

Among the Managed IT services we provide:

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