Is your smart home connected safely?

May 1, 2018

As someone of a certain age, I clearly remember being spellbound by two glimpses of the future in the sci-fi movies I used to watch. One was being able to control objects (in the space dome) at the touch of a button – the two seemingly unconnected. The other was people’s ability to call others via walkie-talkie-like handsets, again without a wire in sight.

Well, yesterday’s fantasy is today’s reality and the stuff of my dreams has come together in the connected home … available to not only space-walking superheroes but absolutely everybody.

The converging technologies of mobile apps, the internet and not sci-fi, but Wi-Fi, means that we all have the ability to monitor and control our enabled heating, lighting, security – even refrigerators and kids’ toys – from anywhere via our mobile devices. Your home may be in Peckham, but you could turn up your heating thermostat from Penang.

In cybersecurity we have a rule of thumb that states the easier you make something to use, the less secure it becomes. You also need to remember that digital technology (which is what the connected home and wider ‘internet of things’ rely on) depends on the transmission of data. And data – a precious commodity to us and the companies who make your smart devices – is invaluable to the less honest inhabitants of the internet.

What are the possibilities?

Having your burglar alarms, cameras, door locks and security lighting disabled – and spyware, ransomware or some other nasty installed on your network – are all possibilities. It has also been known for babysitting cameras and kids’ smart toys to be hacked, via their accompanying apps and your Wi-Fi. And whilst the data transmitted back by your products is used by manufacturers to improve their products and develop new ones, it can also be exploited to target you in marketing campaigns. Innocuous enough, you say, but if that data falls into the wrong hands, it could become a weapon for financial, identity and even more sinister types of crime.

In 2015, the accounts of more than 6.3 million children were affected by a data breach at toy company Vtech, giving the perpetrator access to photos and chat logs. In a statement, a Vtech spokesperson said: “No company that operates online can provide a 100% guarantee that it won’t be hacked.” Very true, actually. But even your own Wi-Fi, if not secured, could reveal far more than you’d wish anybody to know.

What can you do?

If you already know about how the careful creation and guarding of your passwords – and updating your software and apps – can protect you on your computer and mobile devices, you’re halfway to protecting your connected home. But just to be sure, as part of our Your Connected Home awareness campaign, we’ve put together some expert, easy-to-follow tips:

  • For devices for which you need a password (as well as your Wi-Fi password) to connect, replace factory-set passwords with secure ones you create yourself. This is because a lot of default administrator passwords are common to every device shipped, and potentially insecure. If in doubt, check manufacturers’ instructions on how to change passwords.
  • Don’t use the same password for more than one connected device, nor share passwords with those you already use for other online accounts.
  • Make sure your Wi-Fi network is secure, see our advice page on Wireless Networks & Hotspots at getsafeonline.org
  • Make sure that all your computers and mobile devices are fitted with updated internet security software / app, and also that access to these devices is protected with a PIN or passcode.
  • Check the apps associated with your connected devices and install updates as soon as prompted. Also, regularly check manufacturers’ websites for updates, as they can be slow to push them out via their apps.
  • If you can, disable remote-management access and other powerful network tools if they won’t be used.
  • Consider that buying well-known, reputable brands means that more care has probably been taken in securing the products – and your and your family’s security.