By Leon Hounshell January 10, 2020
There’s no question that technological innovations are making our lives easier. Smart speakers now have screens. Smart cameras recognize friends and family. And doorbells provide the ability to both chat with and video record everyone who appears at your door.
All of this adds up to the convenience that technology brings to a connected home where speakers, cameras, thermostats, screens, plugs, lights, and locks all work together and can be controlled via a single device.
Having spent the majority of my career working on internet-related products, I’ve said for a while that the internet of things (IoT) is here. The challenge is how we go about utilizing IoT to best suit our purposes. The conveniences we can obtain from smart, connected devices really do sound great until there’s a security breach, hacking incident, or privacy exposure, usually followed by the comment that “this is the trade-off we have to accept for the sake of convenience.”
Not surprisingly, consumers are worried.
According to the 2018 Norton LifeLock Cyber Safety Insights Report, 85% of Americans are concerned about their privacy. However, 66% accept that their online privacy comes with risks in order to make life more convenient.
Apparently, risking our privacy is a trade-off that most of us are willing to make. I suspect the same is true of security, especially when Norton’s survey reports that 75% of Americans know that their smart devices can be hacked, and 80% know that unauthorized access to one’s email account could lead to access to all linked devices.
With all this knowledge about vulnerabilities, I’m often asked if the technology that makes your home operate more conveniently is really worth it.
I propose that it is worth it and that you can have both without sacrificing one for the other.
You just have to take a few (relatively easy) steps to make your home and office devices more secure.
The first — which we hear all the time, and for good reason — is to strengthen the password associated with each device, and make it unique to the device. If you haven’t already, I recommend using a password manager when possible, as the growth of IoT is only going to make more and more devices — and passwords — inevitable.
To add another layer of protection, enable multifactor authentication (MFA) or two-factor authentication (2FA) for account access. When MFA (or 2FA) is activated, accessing your account requires an additional piece of information, such as a code you receive via text or the answer to a security question. Many institutions such as banks already use MFA, and now some IoT devices give you the option under account settings. Yes, it adds a little time to the log-in process, but it’s another layer of protection, and I think it’s a worthwhile way to balance security and convenience.
This next step is one you can set and forget: Review the default settings, and adjust your device settings based on the level of privacy you want. For example, do you want your smart speaker to record everything it hears or not? It’s up to you. You can also decide to delete the recordings it does make. Your smartphone’s settings can be adjusted so it’s not always listening for a command. You can review how your smart camera images are being transmitted, where they’re being stored, and for how long. And some smart doorbells allow you to deactivate video recording automatically when you’re home. Then don’t forget about your smart TV, as it comes with settings that affect both privacy and security.
Bottom line: Don’t assume that the default settings are what works best for you. Know that you can have both control and convenience. And while you’re reviewing the account settings for each of your smart devices, see if the software is up to date, especially since bug fixes are often the main reason for an update.
Finally, consider putting all your smart home or smart office accessories on a second Wi-Fi network that’s separate from the one connecting to laptops, smartphones, and tablets that store sensitive information. This way if a smart accessory is hacked, it will be harder to infiltrate your personal data. Most routers allow you to add a second or guest network with a different name and password, and it doesn’t cost anything.
I realize that I’ve only touched on home devices in this article, and there are many more IoT devices that can be vulnerable, from toys to self-driving cars. My recommendation is to go through these steps with any device that connects to a network. It doesn’t take much time, and it’s certainly worth the protection and peace of mind you’ll get.
The number of connected devices we have in our homes is growing fast. And unfortunately, the likelihood of being hacked will grow as well. However, as you enjoy more of the conveniences that these devices bring, take the necessary steps to protect yourself, because once you do, the trade-off is definitely worth it.
See all posts from Leon Hounshell.