More and more people are starting to find a place for smart devices in their homes, up to the point where we can consider them as “mainstream technology”. In fact, according to Gartner, by 2021 there will be more than 25 billion smart home devices connected to the internet. This trend opens the door for a lot of possibilities, but also a lot of threats.
Practically every single device in your house can be designed so it behaves as a smart device. Today, it is not just about lightbulbs, thermostats, and doorbells—everything from saltshakers to dishwashers and even an entire door locking and security system can be controlled from your phone.
And although most manufacturers make sure their devices go through several measures to guarantee security (such as firewall protocols, zero-trust networks, and even offshore software testing), all of this interconnectivity is also a breeding ground for security breaches. In other words, that pretty gadget you just bought could actually be an open door for hackers to break into your WiFi network and every device that’s connected to it.
How Hackers breach into Smart Homes
It doesn’t matter what type of smart device you have: as long as they are connected to a network, they can be hacked just like anything else. The difference is that most of the smart home devices on the market have very poor security measures, and pairing that with consumer-grade home routers doesn’t make it any better.
The functionality of devices is not a factor either. A 2019 study by The College of William & Mary revealed that devices as simple as wall plugs and lightbulbs can act as entry points for hackers. What’s more, another study by researchers from the Ben-Gurion University showed that even devices related to home-safety, like security cameras and doorbells, were not difficult to breach.
All hackers need to do is find vulnerabilities. And since most smart devices are mass-manufactured, it is easy to get first-hand information on their weaknesses. From there, hackers are just a few steps away from accessing control panel applications and passwords.
Defense Against the Hacker Arts
Truth be told, you can’t really “defend” yourself from hackers once an attack begins. Still, there are quite a few things you can do to stay on the safe side.
- Manage device permissions: Going with the factory security settings on smart devices is hardly ever recommended. Why? Because most of them have very generous data permissions set as the default. Every time you install a new device, take a look at its privacy settings and make sure you’re on board with everything. If you want to go a step further, try using a non-identifiable login that has no relation to any other account.
- Update devices constantly. Reputable brands know that if their devices get hacked, it will really hurt their sales. More often than not, you will find that manufacturers tend to release software updates with security fixes and patches, a lot of which are created in response to new threats. Updating your device’s software and apps every time you can make it a lot harder for hackers to break into your network.
- Limit always-on settings: Once an always-on device is hacked, it has no motivation to reset and try to secure the breach. Restricting this setting makes your smart home more secure, and guarantees that you’re not constantly under surveillance. This applies especially for smart speakers, light sensors, or any voice sensor integrations.
- Run separate networks: Unsecured devices are the way in for hackers into other more important parts of a network, such as your laptop or phone. To avoid this, you can set an exclusive network for all of your Smart Home devices and trap any hackers into a closed loop.
- Install a Firewall: Using an antivirus on all phones, laptops, and tablets will help protect them from any unwanted intruders, just as installing a firewall between your WiFi router and your devices will stop most threats.
- Step-up your basic security measures. Weak passwords are a no-go. Change any default password to multi-character sentences and enable multiple-step authentication for all apps. Similarly, limit admin permissions and force the system to treat every non-admin account (commonly disguised as “visitors”) as non-system and non-trusted.
Would I be safer without any Smart Tech?
Whether we like them or not, smart home technologies are here to stay. They make our daily lives easier, flexible, more convenient. And even though we are dealing with some scary hacking risks today, that shouldn’t be enough to abandon them. As long as you buy from reputable brands and keep a proactive security mindset, everything should be fine. Hackers won’t attack households that present too much trouble to get into.
Yet, we are still in the early days of smart home technology, and mistrust is actually a healthy behavior in this context. Using them is the only way to help manufacturers to make devices safer for everyone. But in the end, we as users still hold the responsibility of what we bring into our homes, and there’s no harm in being smart about how we use our devices.