Smart homes use internet-connected devices, such as light switches and fridges, that can autonomously flick on your lights, open doors, or even alert you when you’re running low on milk. But all this convenience and connectivity come at a price. Namely, smart-home devices are prone to a plethora of security vulnerabilities that can put your data or property at risk if you’re not careful. Ahead are the scariest threats posed by your smart-home devices—and how to mitigate them.
Smart-home devices hold a treasure trove of personal information, from your birth date to credit card details, that cybercriminals can steal via hacking if the devices lack robust protections to thwart attacks. They can then use the stolen data to launch targeted attacks to rope you into shady deals. For example, if a hacker were to uncover that one of your family members has debts, he could send you a phony request for money on behalf of that relative. To avoid becoming a cyber victim, don’t share financial information, such as bank details, with smart devices, and avoid connecting email clients, calendars, and other apps that contain sensitive information with your devices.
In some instances, instead of breaching a single individual’s smart device to nab his data, a hacker will infiltrate the database of a smart-device company to pilfer the data of all its users. Massive data breaches can expose the data of hordes of users of certain smart devices. If you're one of those unfortunate users, a digital thief can apply for credit cards using your name, take out a mortgage under your name, or otherwise impersonate you and turn your life upside down. You can reduce the risk of a data breach affecting you by sharing minimal personal information with smart devices and regularly monitoring your credit report for negative changes.
Too often, smart-home hubs that connect all the smart devices on your network are secured with a weak password. This security lapse allows clever hackers to easily penetrate and gain access to the hub and tamper with it and other smart devices in your home; for example, hackers could spook homeowners by switching lights on and off or changing TV channels. To avoid virtual break-ins, always establish complex, unique passwords and use two levels of authentication for all your smart devices.
You trust your smart-home devices to keep your private information private, particularly information about where you live. But these devices can betray that trust by giving away your location and making it possible for hackers to find you and spy on you in real time. For example, clicking on a malicious link through a smartphone or computer has in the past duped vulnerable smart speakers into revealing a user’s location right down to the street address when the phone or computer was connected to the same network. Avoiding suspicious links and maintaining a second network just for smart-home devices can help keep your coordinates a secret.
While the potential for remote device tampering is plenty scary, it pales in comparison with the risk of a physical break-in posed by security devices like smart door locks and surveillance cameras. Unidentified security loopholes in any of these devices could grant hackers permission to disable cameras or unlock doors to let in accomplices, burglarize your property, or even lock you out of your own home. Installing security door braces and a security alarm that isn’t smart can help guard against intrusions.
Appliance or Property Damage
Breaches of smart devices that control critical functions of the home, such as cooling and heating, can be even more disastrous. A hacker with access to your thermostat could fiddle with it, forcing your HVAC system into overdrive and causing it to malfunction. Worse yet, a hacker could crank up the oven and cause a house fire—all while you’re away from home. If you opt for these devices, look for ones that let you lock the settings to make it harder for others to change them.
Do you ever feel like someone is eavesdropping on you? If you own a smart speaker, your concern is well founded. Not only do these digital voice assistants listen in on you continuously while on, but hackers can also exploit security loopholes to break into the speaker and issue their own commands or harvest prior recordings. To protect your privacy, periodically delete stored recordings, don’t pair security devices such as cameras or door locks with the speaker, and consider turning off your smart speakers when not in use.
Many smart devices allow homeowners to remotely turn on and off lights or open and close garage doors by integrating third-party mobile apps or smart-home platforms. But apps without secure authorization may allow people other than you to impersonate you and operate your devices if they get their hands on your phone. Plus, some apps group permissions to perform operations on the device rather than requiring separate permissions for each function. This could give a hacker the ability to, say, remotely lock and unlock your front door. When in doubt, use only authorized apps and platforms to control your smart devices.
Related: 50 Great Gadgets for a Smarter Home
The sneakiest smart-home hijackings leave no evidence at the crime scene. Because the data transmitted by smart devices like printers and smart TVs is often unencrypted, a virtual villain can view—and alter—data collected by your devices. Through this method, someone hoping to break into your home could, for example, replace the existing video feed from your surveillance camera with edited footage to avoid getting caught. Use advanced networking monitoring tools to help alert you to suspicious communications or operations on the network.
Using old, threat-prone software on smart devices can make it even easier for cybercriminals to exploit them for nefarious purposes. The best way to protect your devices is to buy from reputable brands that make security a top priority and then set them to update automatically when new software is available. This way, you’ll have the latest security patches that close known loopholes, minimize the risk of viruses, and keep your smart home running smoothly and safely.
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