Always-on digital devices make pandemic life more convenient, flexible and productive. Tablets help us get stuff done, virtual assistants keep us on schedule and smart cameras allow us to keep an eye on home while we step out into the world. According to a new report from Deloitte, the average U.S. household has more than a dozen networked devices, including laptops, phones, smart TVs, video-streaming gadgets, earbuds, fitness trackers and thermostats.
But along with the convenience of smart home technology come significant privacy and security risks. Internet-connected devices can inadvertently expose your private information or allow snoops to spy on private locations. To these ends, easily hacked passwords are a top target for hackers and cybercriminals.
"When the pandemic hit and everyone started working from home, security professionals became immediately concerned that hackers would exploit the use of personal devices. And that's of course exactly what happened," said Frances Zelazny, co-founder of Anonybit and "internet of things" analyst. "Within months, there were malicious sites and viruses circulating all over the place, with the home router and printer being the entry point of choice for malicious exploitations. And once the hackers were in, they then exploited weak authentication methods to conduct fraud, install ransomware and access corporate networks."
Here are six simple things you can do to lock down your devices from predators and protect your private data.
Update your software and firmware. Connected gadgets like thermostats and smart cameras ship with old software — a honeypot for hackers. By regularly updating the software on each of your connected devices you improve the security of your entire home network.
Change your passwords, and use a password manager like LastPass or 1Password to generate and store secure passwords. With a few exceptions, passwords lock and unlock everything we do at home, school and work. Many connected devices ship with bad default passwords, like "admin" or "password." Take a few minutes to change the default password on each device you own. Use a password vault like LastPass or 1Password to securely store your passwords, so you don't have to remember them.
Use 2-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication is a second password that is sent to you via text message or in a phone app when you log in to a service. Enabling this feature on your home devices adds a second layer of security to your network and blocks common cyberattacks.
Use a WiFi 6 router. Most of us use the default router provided by our internet service provider. But if you're running a smart home with a number of connected devices, you should consider upgrading to a WiFi 6 router. Many new routers provide dashboard settings that let you segment home internet traffic, resulting in faster speed and efficiency, and provide additional security settings for connected devices.
Make your home network "invisible." By hiding the router's SSID, its unique identifier, you can prevent snoops from finding and targeting the devices on your network. It won't deter a serious hacker but will shield you from nosy neighbors. Oftentimes, the best privacy is security through obscurity.
Bonus project: Create your own VPN with a Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi is a low-cost, high-power microcomputer. It runs the Linux operating system and can be deployed for a number of fun projects, as well as cybersecurity. Creating a virtual private network for your smart home is one of the best ways to learn programming and protect your home's digital privacy.
"To get the most out of personal IoT and smart home tech it is important to look past the conveniences and understand the security infrastructure that needs to be put in place," said Zelazny. "Locking down the router and securing other devices in the home should be of paramount importance. On top of that is to practice good cyber hygiene in general. Regardless of device, don't click on links that come in emails from unknown senders, be on alert for phishing, and don't use the same password for each network or device."