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8 Hacks to Keep the Hackers Out

Is it your goal to live in a smart home? You’re not alone — more than 57% of UK homes now contain a smart device. Modern smart technology makes it easier than ever to live a life of comfort and convenience. With the press of a button or simple voice command you can dim the lights, remotely monitor your home, and even brew a cuppa. That’s before we even get started on commonplace smart home devices like home office smart printers, thermostats, smart TVs, and smart speakers. What’s not to love?

Unfortunately, the rise of smart technology has come with a rise in cyber attacks. And hackers aren’t just focusing on large companies; as data becomes ever more valuable many cyber criminals have set their sights closer to home.

With video doorbells and smart locks on your windows and doors, you might consider your home foolproof against intruders. Unfortunately, criminals are getting smarter, too. Hackers can easily turn these safety devices to their advantage to gain access to your home. Persistent hackers will break weak passwords to gain control of your devices and spy on your home or collect personal data for fraud. Others have used technology for a darker purpose to ‘cyberstalk’ victims by controlling a TV’s smart speakers.

Why are smart homes vulnerable to cyber attacks?

Many homeowners opt to Wi-Fi their smart home devices instead of hard-wiring. While wireless is a convenient ‘out-of-the-box’ solution, it’s extremely vulnerable to hackers. Default credentials on routers and poor password protection allow cyber criminals to steal your data with ease.

Criminals look for un-encrypted wireless networks to hop onto. From there they can spy on you via your security devices, steal personal data like bank details, mess with the thermostat, or even play inappropriate content via your smart speakers and TV.

Smart devices are a money-making industry, and sometimes this means manufacturers rush designs to market without paying due consideration to security. Recently, Which? called for tighter security measures on smart devices: the consumer champion set up their own smart home and were shocked by the 12,000 hacking attempts in a single week.

Smart devices most at risk from hackers

Unlike a burglar, you can’t ‘see’ cyber criminals, but that doesn’t make the threat any less real. Take a mental tour through your home and see how many of your devices make our ‘most at risk list’:

Smart locks and outdoor security

Having your data stolen feels as invasive as an intruder breaking a window. You might think a professionally monitored security system would be immune to hackers but smart security devices can be the first line of defense to fall if proper safety measures aren’t in place.

Outdoor smart devices like locks, gate entry systems, and doorbell cameras are hacker favourites because anyone driving past can gain access to your network with a Wi-Fi transmitter. If all your devices are interconnected (the point of a smart home) then it’s relatively easy for a hacker to poke around the rest of your home network. The popular Verkada security cameras recently came under scrutiny when hackers breached 150,000 cameras to make a point about surveillance.

Man standing at entrance door and using smart lock applicaition when leaving house

Devices within the home

Inside your smart home the list of wireless devices is probably endless. One of the main benefits of smart devices is the ease and convenience they bring to our busy lives — unfortunately, they’re also convenient for hackers.

Smart TVs, smart speakers, lightbulbs and switches, temperature control, printers, and smart home assistants are all fair game for hackers if not properly secured. Any device that connects via Wi-Fi is prone to attack, so it’s important to ensure your home network is securely encrypted to deter cybercriminals. Much like ordinary burglars, hackers won’t waste trying to break into a secure network. Instead they look for weak, unprotected networks and devices to prey upon.

Kitchen gadgets

We’re now living in an Internet of Things (IoT) that lets your fridge order grocery shopping from Amazon. Homeowners want more convenience and entertainment built into their kitchens, and every year there seems to be a new smart gadget for the kitchen that makes life easier. But there’s a dark side to all this innovation. As mentioned previously, not all manufacturers put the same level of effort into device security, leaving the hub of the family home wide open to cybercrime.

Fancy a cuppa? In the UK a growing number of brews are made with smart kettles. There’s nothing a cup of tea can’t fix — except hackers making off with your personal data! A security specialist recently demonstrated how easy it is to knock a kettle off its access point and obtain the wireless network key.

Thermostat hackers after your cold, hard cash

Many people run businesses from their home. Smart technology makes it easy to make five figure salaries from the comfort of home. Depending on the size of your at-home-empire, you could become a target for ransomware groups. It’s a breeze for hackers to gain network access via your thermostat and from there encrypt your most important data and hold you to ransom. While this is an extreme example (most ransomware targets big companies) even small data breaches can wreak havoc on your business if you need to take time out to recover lost data.

And while ransomware gangs might target corporations, that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Biometrics like smart mattresses can help us live our best lives, but these personal insights aren’t always kept private. In most cases devices will send data back to the manufacturer, who might not have the tightest policy when it comes to storing sensitive customer data. If the company falls victim to a ransomware attack then it’s almost guaranteed that your information will be used by hackers.

So, what does all this mean? Should that put you off your dream of a smart home? Absolutely not! There are plenty of ways to keep your smart home safe from hackers. Stronger passwords and two-factor authentication, for example, are quick and easy fixes to secure your home against cyber attacks.

These security tips will help you outsmart the hackers so you can get back to enjoying the convenience of your smart devices in safety.

smart screen with smart home with modern living room

How To Secure Your Smart Home

The more security savvy you become the less you’ll have to fear from unscrupulous hackers. Follow these tips for each smart device in your home to protect you and your family.

1. Secure your Wi-Fi network

First things first, change your default router password if you haven’t already done so. Default passwords are notoriously easy for hackers to crack in order to spy on your home and data. A strong password contains more than 10 characters and uses upper and lower case letters. The password should be long and contain numbers and symbols. As tempting as it is, don’t use personal names or locations; while they’re easy to remember, they’re also easy to guess!

2. Update passwords on all accounts and devices

After securing your wireless network repeat the same process across all devices and accounts. Each device should have a different password for extra security to prevent hackers gaining access to all your smart home tech. We know it’s a pain, but the hassle and heartache of dealing with the aftermath of a cyber attack is infinitely worse.

3. Multi-factor authentication

Multi-factor authentication and two-step verification are a great security measure in addition to passwords. Typically, users are asked to confirm their identity, either by entering a code sent to their phone or email, or sometimes by fingerprint. This adds an extra step of security that will deter hackers and force them to move on in search of a weaker target.

4. Do your research

We can’t stress enough the importance of buying from reputable brands. Research should consist of more than reading multiple reviews on Amazon (it’s very easy nowadays for companies to ‘buy’ reviews). Look in the manufacturer’s history. How have they dealt with security reaches in the past? How will they collect and store your data? It’s a cliche, but always read the small print! Some companies collect and distribute data to third parties, but if they’re reputable you should be given the option to opt-out.

5. Update, update, update!

Software updates might seem like a nuisance but they are there for your own good. Get into the habit of checking the manufacturer’s website for updates and installing them regularly. Sometimes you can opt for automatic updates in your devices settings. It’s fairly common for cyber criminals to gain access to wireless networks via outdated devices that have never been updated since coming out of the box.

6. Replace outdated routers

When was the last time you bought a new router? If the answer is never, then you might be at risk from hackers. Accessing your personal network via an out of date router is one of the easiest ways for hackers to make off with your personal data. Security upgrades present a fresh challenge to hackers, and many see it as a personal mission to break past the latest line of defence. Annoying, but true. Therefore, your best bet for protecting your financial data and privacy is to stay on top of the latest security updates. Look for Wi-Fi 6 routers, which are the latest models on the market.

7. Monitor and secure your network

There are a few more router-related security tips you can implement:

  • Rename your router. This is critical if you’ve named your router after your business name or home location — a dead giveaway to potential hackers
  •  Set up an encryption method. WPA2 is a common encrypted security protocol that that protects internet traffic on wireless networks
  • Set up a guest network for your smart devices. The guest network will keep your computers, smartphones, or devices you use for work separate from other smart devices in your home. That way, if there’s a cyber attack, your most valuable information is safe

8. A hard-wired home = a safe home

Hackers are one of the most serious reasons why your smart home should be operational offline. When your internet is hardwired you can only access data by plugging in your device with a cable. A wireless connection, on the other hand, means your data is vulnerable to theft by hackers because everything must pass through an easily compromised router.

One of our customers biggest concerns with smart homes is security. The truth is, when devices connect wirelessly to the internet there is always an element of risk. It’s a fact that wired connections are safer and perform better than Wi-Fi.

Smart homes offer convenience and luxury at the touch or a button, but wireless connectivity comes with security risks. By taking control of your devices you can ensure that your home network is secure from cyber threats, allowing you and your family to enjoy the benefits of a smart home in peace.

Need an expert? John Ross Smart Living engineers have years of experience hardwiring smart homes and connecting devices securely. Cables can be neatly concealed so your smart home looks sleek and tidy and your new network will be reliable and secure so you can work or play with absolute peace of mind.

Holding phone with launched alarm app on the house background outdoors. Concept of controlling and managing home security from a mobile device

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