Protecting Yourself from Your Smart Devices
Alexa, how can I protect myself from… you?
Baby monitors, digital assistants, thermostats, doorbells, security cameras, even light bulbs and refrigerators are now able to connect, share, and interact with users and other devices.
With so many smart devices available, it might be hard to see the downside of technology that puts monitoring and control of homelife directly in the hands of the consumer.
But when connecting these everyday objects to the Internet, however, there is also the possibility of leaving your home vulnerable to attacks from digital hackers.
Smart Device Dangers
Turning on the AC before coming home with the simple use of an app is a modern convenience, but at what cost to personal privacy?
For those who are worried about the prevalence of smart devices, it’s important to understand how to properly secure and protect this technology from getting into the wrong hands. According to Statista , currently about 25% of homes in the United States have some kind of smart device. This percentage is expected to grow to almost 50% by 2023.
With a simple phishing email, hackers can gain access to passwords for Wi-Fi or smart home security hubs. Once the hackers have access to connected smart devices, they can begin doing things like unlocking doors and viewing security cameras.
A family in California recently fell victim to a hack of their smart security camera system, where the infiltrators not only were able to control the video and spy on the family, but also to broadcast sound, including a fake warning of a nuclear missile attack that sent the family into a panic.
Some connected home devices like thermostats, locks and lights, can also become powerful tools for domestic abusers. Abusers can use their smartphone apps, connected to Internet-enabled devices, to remotely control elements of their victim’s homes, such as the temperature or doors.
Essentially, with a vulnerable smart device, whoever else has access to that app may not only be able to access personal information, but could also eavesdrop on conversations, spy on a nursery, or even connect to other smart devices in a chain reaction of hacking.
Even ubiquitous tech brands like Facebook faced criticism with the introduction of a video smart device, the Portal, due to heightened privacy concerns about data collection and filming in people’s homes.
Smart Use of Smart Devices
For any Internet-connected device, it’s important to take precautions. Sure, there are webcam covers for laptops, but that doesn’t help protect other smart cameras installed throughout the home.
Making sure devices are updated and have the latest operating systems is important, but who wants to figure out if their fridge needs to download new software? Here are some simple steps to take to ensure safer use of smart devices.
Protecting the Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi is the first line of defense, the command station that must be protected. If it falls, so goes the rest of the smart devices tethered to it. A virtual private network, or VPN, is one way to assist a smart home in regards to privacy by starting at the source.
A VPN will help keep most browsing private from an Internet provider and can help reduce online tracking. Another important thing about a VPN is that it can help secure connections if using public Wi-Fi.
You don’t want to be entering credit card information to make an online purchase while connected to the free cafe Internet that is easily hacked.
While VPNs are not a tool for total anonymity, you still shouldn’t trust a free one, which will make personal data the product at your expense. Some VPN services can be purchased for around $5 a month in a subscription, or $10 paying monthly.
Password Managers and Authentication
It’s an adage of the Internet that no one seems to really abide by: don’t use the same password, anywhere, anytime, for anything. But people tend to repeat the same password, or a variation of it, for most of their logins because it’s easy to remember.
It’s difficult for a person to memorize dozens of complex passwords across all of the online banking, shopping, and work we now do on the Internet. Protecting smart home devices from hackers means not using a common password, and on top of that, not using a password found anywhere else.
That’s where a password manager comes in. A password manager generates and stores passwords for different sites, without the user having to actually remember them all. There is now just one main master password to remember—the one to access the password manager itself.
This password must be different from any other password used in the past, something totally unique and random. A good password manager will also alert the user if a site they are on has been vulnerable to a hack, so they can change that password.
For all smart devices, you can typically set up two-factor authentication on the account if it’s available. This usually means to access the account, there will be two verification steps: the password, and then usually another method such as a text or phone call to a personal device, with a code to enter to confirm the identity as the account holder.
Sure, if a hacker got a hold of a password, that would be bad news for any smart devices connected with that password, but with two-factor authentication, attacks are potentially more easily thwarted since the hackers shouldn’t have access to the one-time-use code needed to enter.
Going Analog (Sometimes)
Is it really necessary to have a smart diaper to help track a baby’s sleep and bathroom breaks with an app? The more data linked into a smart device or system, the greater risk of privacy exposure.
A paper shredder, as out of place as it might seem when talking about Internet-connected technology, can be a great investment in digital privacy. A good shredder can help protect against old-fashioned identity theft, which nowadays can impact digital life.
Think of how many security questions are tied to your mother’s maiden name or the street where you grew up. Someone going through your trash could find bills with your name, address, date of birth, or even Social Security number.
Running important documents or paper with personal information on it through the shredder before it leaves the house is another step to help ensure your data remains safe.
Monitoring Credit Scores and Finances
It’s also important to pay attention to your credit score and finances when keeping an eye out for compromised passwords that could affect the security of your smart devices.
Following the Equifax hack in 2017, for example, approximately half of the US population was affected, with customer names, Social Security numbers, addresses and birthdates exposed.
Those key personal details are also key to a lot of passwords and identity verification, which are how many hackers are able to take over smart devices. Monitoring for identity theft, such as unusual credit card activity, is made easier by checking credit scores and knowing about all of your financial accounts.
A budget tracking tool like SoFi Relay can help those worried about smart device vulnerability see all of their accounts in one place, at no cost. By connecting all accounts, users can get a big-picture look at all of their finances, making it easier to notice potential security threats.
For example, if your smart device linked to a shopping account was hacked, you’d have a convenient view of the unauthorized spending that can often be overlooked. Being able to watch your accounts diligently might end up saving you a lot of time and money in the long run.
And with the added bonus of a cash management account like SoFi Money®, your money is FDIC insured up to $1.5 million once it arrives at our partner banks—so you can feel confident that the money you’re tracking is secure.
SoFi Money is a cash management account, which is a brokerage product, offered by SoFi Securities LLC, member FINRA / SIPC .
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