Smart Homes and Security Vulnerabilities

an image of various home item and two people surrounding a house

Smart homes make life easier and more convenient. Whether you're just around the corner or traveling abroad, thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), you can monitor, track and control just about any aspect of your home right from your smartphone. And when at home, a smart hub or speaker allows you to do the same with voice commands.

This technology is simplifying daily activities and easing worries for households across the globe. Smart homes aren’t just for the tech-savvy or wealthy; approximately 83 million U.S. households now have at least one internet-connected home device. Although convenient, connecting smart home devices to the internet runs the risk of exposing security vulnerabilities that can be easily exploited by cybercriminals.

With so many devices connected to the internet, smart home technology has become a new playground for cybercriminals. Once a device is compromised, a hacker can do anything from annoy you to execute serious threats, such as spying, blackmail or theft. For instance, a hacker who gains access to your smart thermostat can disable the heat during a winter storm. While annoying, this type of attack does not present any grave threat. On the other hand, hacking one device makes it easier to hack others. Access to the thermostat can be a gateway to the security system, or even worse, the entire network. Cybercriminals who find their way to the network can unlock doors or turn off security systems, leaving the home vulnerable to a break-in. Also, unprotected smart home devices can offer up an ample amount of non-public personal information that cybercriminals can use for fraudulent acts such as identity theft. 

Before you buy any smart home device, be sure to do your research. Read product reviews and make sure the product and mobile application fit your overall needs and budget. Also, review the company’s privacy policy. Make sure you understand what information will be collected, how it will be utilized, and what policies and procedures are in place to protect it. When you’re ready to make a purchase, be sure to choose a trusted and reliable retailer. Once you’ve made the purchase, here’s a list of additional security measures to implement:

  • Safeguard your wireless network. The wireless network is home to all your devices, so it’s important to make sure it’s safe and secure. For basic steps to secure your home network, click here.
  • Install a trusted Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel for all your internet traffic so that your identity and location are masked from lurking eyes. To ensure your home Wi-Fi network is protected, a VPN can be installed directly to the router. More importantly, avoid public Wi-Fi networks, such as your favorite coffee shop or the local grocery market, without using a trusted VPN. Otherwise, you could be sending your personal information directly to a cybercriminal.
  • Invest in firewall, anti-virus and malware solutions. A firewall blocks unauthorized access to your network, while anti-virus and malware solutions are software applications used to prevent, detect and remove malicious software or programs, such as viruses and spyware.
  • Create strong passwords. Always change the default password that came with the device. Make sure your new password is long in length (at least twelve characters), has a mix of letters, numbers and symbols, and is not a word found in the dictionary. Avoid using any personal information. For tips to create a password you won’t forget, click here.
  • Consider multi-factor authentication (MFA). MFAs are used to provide a higher level of protection beyond a password. Fingerprint, voice and facial recognition; PINs; and security tokens are all examples of additional authentication methods used to enhance security.
  • Update firmware regularly. Firmware is the background programming that ensures a smart device is working correctly. Updates to firmware are often issued by manufacturers or service providers. The updates allow you to optimize performance, enable enhancements and fix bugs, and they protect you from security vulnerabilities. Be sure to act fast when it comes to updates.
  • Set up a guest network. Keep your smart devices on a private, and separate, network. Create a separate network for your friends and relatives. It’s a great way to allow your guests to connect to the internet without giving them access to everything on your main network.

There’s no doubt smart homes make daily activities easier, but they’re also vulnerable to a wide range of cyberattacks. Before investing in smart home technology, it’s important to consider the security vulnerabilities of each new device and implement ways to reduce security risks.