How to Stay Safe and Private When Using Smart Home Gadgets
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While the Internet of Things can bring a lot of convenience for you, it can also make it easier for hackers to gain access to your devices. As such, it’s vital to ensure the gadgets you bring into your home are secure before they’re even turned on.

Let’s look at some ways you can stay safe with smart gadgets.

What’s the Problem With Smart Home Gadgets?

The main appeal with “smart gadgets” is that they utilize a network in order to achieve their goals. This is what makes them “smart” in the first place. Unlike “dumb” gadgets, smart ones can communicate with other devices and the internet to achieve a specific goal.

This added functionality, however, can also be used against you. While smart gadgets can now talk to each other, hackers can use this channel of communications to talk to your devices.

This opens up Internet of Things (IoT) devices to a world of cybercrime, where hackers have access to devices they previously could not touch.

What Can Compromised Smart Home Gadgets Do?

So your smart devices are susceptible to hackers. So what? What are they going to do when they get into your smart watch—see how many steps you took today? Give you advice on how you can train better?

Things get a little scarier when you realize what these gadgets are capable of. For example, does your smart watch use GPS to track your progress when you go jogging?

Should a hacker get access to that data, they can see what’s being sent and monitor where you are at all times. They can use the data to stalk you, or to monitor when you’re out to stage a burglary.

This may sound like paranoid rambling, but it’s very much a reality! WeLiveSecurity reported on a children’s smart watch that was recalled after the first wave of models sent data unencrypted. This allowed hackers to monitor where the child was at any given time, which was grounds to recall the product over privacy concerns.

How to Secure Your Internet of Things Devices

Every time you go to buy a new gadget for your home, ask yourself these six things to ensure you can keep your privacy safe.

1. “How Easy Is It to Hack This?”

The term “Internet of Things” is a little vague. Most of the time, it describes a device that connects to the internet. That’s why it’s the “Internet of Things;” it’s many “things” that are connected to the internet as a whole.

Sometimes, however, people use the term to describe a device that just connects to another gadget without using the internet. How easy it is to crack into a device depends on whether it actually accesses the internet or not.

It’s a good idea to consider how easy it would be for a hacker to get into the device. Something that connects to the internet has a far greater chance of being breached than something that only connects to an app.

The Mirai botnet, for example, scanned for open IoT gadget ports on the internet. This meant that devices that used an internet connection were susceptible to being scanned and invaded. Any devices that worked offline, however, had an easier time avoiding Mirai’s attacks.

That’s not to say that any device that doesn’t connect to the internet is impenetrable. It does, however, mean that only people in the device’s range can access it. This restricts a potential hacker’s range to a few feet around the device. It’s a lot easier to catch a hacker standing in your front garden than one in another country!

2. “If This Was Hacked, How Much Damage Would It Do?”

Not every smart device damages your privacy when compromised. Yes, if someone got into your smart watch, they could harvest personal information from it, like your location.

If someone hacks your smart bulb control center, however, the intruder can’t do more than change the colors of your home’s lighting against your will!

Think about what would happen if someone got into the device you’re thinking of buying. If the idea of it gives you anxiety, perhaps don’t get it!

3. “Does It Use Encryption?”

Double-check to see if the device encrypts the data before it sends it out. Data encryption is very important in preventing hackers from reading the data your device sends. If there’s no encryption, a hacker can monitor the data your device sends out with relative ease.

Before you buy a smart device, do some research on if it supports encryption. If you can’t find any mention of it in its product description, check the manual online or do a search for its encryption method. Don’t buy any gadget that can’t encrypt its own data—it might cause huge privacy issues if a hacker gets into it!

4. “What Security Features Does It Have?”

Does the device support 2FA authentication when you log into it? Does it give you a default username and password when you set it up—and if so, can you easily change it to something more secure? If you can connect to it over the internet, are there any preventative measures to stop a stranger from logging in?

Security features are crucial for keeping your devices safe. If it looks like the manufacturers don’t do a good enough job keeping it secure, don’t allow it into your home!

We covered different security methods in our guide to the pros and cons of two-factor authentication The Pros and Cons of Two-Factor Authentication Types and Methods The Pros and Cons of Two-Factor Authentication Types and Methods Two-factor authentication methods are not created equal. Some are demonstrably safer and more secure. Here's a look at the most common methods and which ones best meet your individual needs. Read More , so give it a read to learn which security methods are the best for protecting your future IoT purchases.

5. “Did a Reputable Company Design This?”

In the great race of the Internet of Things, everyone is keen to be the one that is “first on the market.” Companies spring up to take advantage of the gold rush, then cut corners in order to churn out products and make a quick buck. They typically don’t undergo proper security testing, and can contain glaring vulnerabilities as a result.

Always ensure that reputable companies designed the devices you let into your home. Companies that have a premium reputation can’t afford to cut corners; if they did, their customers would quickly shift to their competitors.

Try to avoid any products that seem low-quality, no matter how attractive their price point is. Products that haven’t had the proper care or checks are far more likely to contain crippling flaws than devices that went through rigorous checks.

6. “Do I Really Need It to Be Smart?”

Before you bring any smart device into your home, have a think on if you really need it to be smart. A smart device comes with its fair share of vulnerabilities, and it’s up to you if the benefits of having it in your home outweigh the possibility that someone may hack it.

Sure, if you like the idea of smart bulbs that change color, that’s not something you can easily achieve via other means. If it does get hacked, the end result is benign. A smart lock, however, is a nice convenient luxury, but can really cause headaches if someone manages to compromise it.

What About IoT Devices You Already Own?

Of course, this is all good for when you’re buying a new device, but what about the ones you already own? Is there a way to secure your home when the smart devices are already in it?

Fortunately, there are ways to keep yourself safe, even after you’ve bought smart devices. We covered the best ways to do this in our guide to securing IoT devices. 5 Tips for Securing Your Smart Devices and IoT Devices 5 Tips for Securing Your Smart Devices and IoT Devices Smart home hardware is part of the Internet of Things, but how safe is your network with these devices connected? Read More

Keeping Your Smart Home Safe

The best way to protect your home from digital intruders is to take care of what you bring into it. By being cautious with your purchases, you can keep the intruders out where they can’t do any damage.

Interested in how hackers use compromised smart devices for their own purposes? Try our article on IoT botnets The Rise of IoT Botnets (And How to Protect Your Smart Devices) The Rise of IoT Botnets (And How to Protect Your Smart Devices) Botnets threaten to hijack and destroy the Internet of Things. Here's how to protect your IoT devices from this terrible malware. Read More .

Explore more about: Internet of Things, Online Privacy, Online Security.

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  1. dragonmouth
    March 4, 2019 at 7:23 pm

    "6. “Do I Really Need It to Be Smart?”"
    That is the first and most important question one should ask oneself before getting into IoT. It should have been #1 in your list of How to Secure Your Internet of Things Devices. The next question one asks oneself should be "Do I needed it to be smart or do I just want it to be smart because of the coolness factor?"

    "5. “Did a Reputable Company Design This?”"
    Ring Doorbell was designed by a reputable company and yet it has a security hole big enough to drive a truck through. "Reputable" goes by the wayside when a company wants to be the cery first to market a new gizmo.

    "The best way to protect your home from digital intruders is to take care of what you bring into it. "
    Dumb devices may not be as convenient or as kewl as smart ones but they are a heck of a lot more secure. To hack dumb devices, the individual must be in physical contact with them, not in another country.

  2. Daniel Hostetler
    March 1, 2019 at 10:28 pm

    Actually, there is a much better option available for the IoT devices in your home. There is a new security device launched on Kickstarter late last year known as Akita that was designed and built to address this exact issue.