Is Your Ring Device Making Your Home Less Safe?
Home security products like smart doorbells and security cameras are getting more popular, especially those produced by Amazon’s Ring. But these products have been in the spotlight for causing security issues too. Here we’ll show you some of the ways that Ring devices can be a security problem.
What Happened in the Ring Hack
At the end of 2019, Amazon’s Ring smart doorbells and home security cameras made headlines. A group of customers in California sued the company after hackers attacked their Ring devices. The customers said they had experienced hackers using the devices’ two-way voice communication in appropriate ways. Customers heard the hackers yelling racist obscenities, threatening their lives, and in one case even taunting a young child.
Ring’s defense was that its security cameras were not actually hacked. This is true. What had happened is that hackers used login information found online to access the Ring devices. At some point, the customers must have reused usernames and passwords across multiple sites, including Ring. Then, when one of their logins was compromised, the hackers were able to use that same information to access their Ring devices.
In fairness to Ring, it is standard security advice that customers should not reuse passwords for multiple sites. Because it can lead to just this sort of event. However, the incident still raises serious security concerns.
The Problems Raised by the Ring Hack
There are two reasons this is so worrying. Firstly, smart cameras have access to a huge amount of very personal data. Having a Ring device hacked is not the same as having your email address leaked online. That is annoying, but manageable. Hackers accessing Ring devices can see into users’ homes in real time. They can use the voice system to send threatening messages. They could observe children, which parents find particularly worrying. And they could save any of this information and later distribute it online.
The second reason for concern is that people buy devices like smart doorbells or home security systems in order to feel more safe. They want a higher level of security. When a security device is hacked , it does the opposite of this, by making them feel afraid and unsafe.
Many security experts and technology reporters have blamed Ring itself for the situation. Even though customers shouldn’t reuse passwords, any security company should know that they commonly do so anyway. Ring could have built more protections for customers into the system. For example, there is an option to enable two-factor authentication on the Ring system.
If this had been enabled by default, it would have been harder for hackers to attack the devices. Similarly, there could be more prompts within the software to encourage people to use strong passwords. Or it could require unique account names instead of using email addresses to log in, which would make hackers reusing logins from other sites less effective.
The Security Risks of Ring
This shows how a system you buy to increase your security can cause security problems of its own. Here are some of the security risks of smart doorbells and cameras like Ring products which you should consider.
Vulnerability to Hacking
Like the example mentioned above, any security system is vulnerable to attacks somewhere. Security systems are especially attractive targets to hackers because they hold so much information.
If you buy a security system you check out the company first. You should see if the company has good security policies and whether it has suffered data breaches in the past.
Bear in mind that a hacker accessing your smart doorbell can see a lot of information that you want to keep private. Make sure you take precautions like using unique passwords, enabling two-factor authentication, keeping your software up to date, and changing your password if security breaches do occur.
Employees Accessing Data
You should also remember that there doesn’t have to be a hack for someone else to see your Ring data. Employees of Amazon or Ring can access your videos too. In January 2020, Amazon fired four employees after it discovered they were inappropriately viewing videos of Ring customers.
Even without the misbehaving employees, staff may look at your Ring footage for legitimate reasons like troubleshooting. When you purchase a device like a Ring, you are essentially trusting not only the company but all of its staff with footage of you in your home. You have to decide if a company is worthy of that degree of trust.
Police Involvement With Ring
Another factor in Ring which makes some people uncomfortable is the company’s relationship with the police. Ring has entered “partnerships” with more than 400 police forces across the US. This offers local police forces access to a portal through which they can request Ring footage. Ring customers aren’t obliged to comply with these requests, but customers don’t necessarily know this.
In some towns, police have used taxpayer money to offer free or discounted Rings to the public. In some of these situations, it has been reported that users are required to turn over their footage to police in exchange for the device.
The situation has become so worrying that US senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) has written to Amazon to raise privacy and civil liberties concerns, and to question Ring about the nature of its partnership with police forces. Perhaps the most concerning part about the whole situation is the lack of clarity offered by Ring regarding the exact details of its relationship with the police.
Issues of Civil Liberties
Ring devices also raise concerns over civil liberties. Ring devices don’t only include gadgets for recording inside the home, like security cameras. They also include smart doorbells which record outside the home as well. This essentially makes Ring doorbells an unofficial network of surveillance cameras.
This raises several issues. Firstly, there is the fact that this surveillance network is owned and operated by a private company, without oversight from the government. When combined with the possibility of facial recognition technology, this fact becomes even more alarming.
Secondly, the devices seem to have a negative impact on people’s perception of safety. Programs like Ring’s Neighbors inform Ring users about crimes which have occurred in their local area. This is supposed to keep people informed about crimes. However, even though violent crime has fallen sharply in the US in the last 25 years, these programs can actually make more afraid of crime and contribute to the incorrect belief that crime is on the rise.
Thirdly, activists have reported that Ring devices and the Neighbors program contribute to racial profiling. They are often used in predominately white neighborhoods to report of the activities of non-white people as “suspicious.” Technology’s use in this context seems to reinforce social prejudices rather than providing objective information.
Security Issues With Ring Smart Doorbells and Cameras
Although devices like security cameras and smart doorbells can help to keep your home safe, they can also come with security risks of their own. And they are just one example of Internet of Things (IoT) devices you may have in your home which can cause security problems.
To make sure the other devices on your home network are also protected against hackers, check out our tips for securing your smart devices and IoT devices .