By Marie Flanagan June 15, 2021
Summary: With these tips, your home isn’t the only one getting smarter. While there’s no straightforward answer to just how hackable each individual smart device is, you can think of every connection to your WiFi network as a door. For every door, you need a good lock. Learn how to stay safer and protect your tech to get an A+ in home security.
Smart home devices have undoubtedly made our lives easier from being able to adjust the thermostat while running errands to turning on the lights before arriving home. But, just like anything that’s connected to your high-speed internet, you’ll want to make sure they’re secure.
Let’s break down how these devices can make your home more susceptible to cybersecurity breaches, but more importantly, what you can do about it.
A smart device is an interactive and somewhat autonomous electronic device that can connect to other devices or wireless networks. In addition to your phone, common smart home devices are coffee makers, video doorbells, thermostats, speakers, and even outlets. This also includes wearable tech (like an Apple Watch or Fitbit) and larger tech (like smart cars).
But let’s focus on smart home devices, which are generally controlled through an app on your phone or tablet. When smart devices are connected to your WiFi network, they create a door where hackers could try to enter, so you’ll want to make sure it stays closed.
The more devices you have connected to each other — such as a smart speaker that can control your alarm system — the more hackable your home is. That’s because if a criminal gets into one system they can get access to control whatever else it’s connected to. So, yes, it is possible for some industrious hacker to access your email through your fridge.
There are a few ways to make sure those doors stay locked, but if you’re looking to secure all your devices at once, you need to start with your high-speed internet network.
You already know that creating unique, complex passwords for every account is important. But have you taken the time to secure your WiFi network, too? Make sure you’ve changed the network name and password on your router or gateway from the one that it was installed with. Many default network names can indicate the internet service provider or the model of the router. Ideally, your network name won’t obviously be linked to your household. Creating a new and complex password will make it more difficult for cybercriminals (or your neighbors) to steal your connection.
Already have a private, password-protected network? Take your security a step further by creating guest networks for your smart home devices.
A guest network provides a different access point to your network. It doesn’t require paying your ISP extra money and is typically included as an option in your router settings.
You can look in your manual or do a quick search for your router model to see exactly how to set one up. Just remember to create a strong password for the guest network, too.
So how does this help? While the devices that are connected to this network could still be hacked, it will create a barrier between them and your emails, bank accounts, and other sensitive information. It’s almost like a guest house — you still own it, but it offers healthy boundaries between you and potentially intrusive and unexpected visitors.
Once your network is secure, you’ll want to also ensure that your devices themselves are as protected as possible. There are a few ways to approach this, and any of them will help you in your security pursuit. But, the more you complete, the more protected you’ll likely be.
Opting for a well-known device maker increases the likelihood that they have built-in security measures. (Think companies like Samsung, Google, and LG.) This isn’t to say that you must avoid smaller providers at all costs, but some extra vetting is warranted. More recent up-and-comers like Nest and Ring have also built good reputations in the smart home spaces.
Prone to clicking “update later” when prompted? We’ve all been there. But beyond changing the icons and available emojis, software updates often contain security patches. Regularly updating your devices keeps them as secure as possible for two reasons. One: it fixes any weak points that were found in the prior operating system. Two: hackers haven’t had time to learn the new weak points. Using older software makes you less secure, so take the time to make those updates regularly. (Or, if you’re worried about forgetting, enable automatic updates.)
Will we ever stop suggesting two-factor authentication? Probably not. If you’re not familiar with it, it adds an extra step to your login process. This can be anything from sending a code to a pre-approved device (like your phone or email account) to using facial recognition software. It makes your account harder to hack because it requires a second piece of information. We suggest using this on every account that offers it. Yes, it adds a few seconds when logging in, but that’s well worth it for the bolstered security.
We’ve all invested in devices that we just… don’t use as much as we expected. If you have a device that’s only used one or two times a week, consider unplugging it when it’s not being used. You’ll save money on electricity and remove a potential weak point in your network.
The same goes for devices that you use — but not in a “smart” way. If you’ve got a smart coffee maker or refrigerator but don’t use the connectivity features, remove them from your network. If you decide you miss those features, you can always reconnect it, but you’ll be more protected in the meantime. For some devices, like smartwatches, you can simply choose what to use it for. Maybe you don’t need to set up your email inbox on your watch and can just use it for fitness tracking and text notifications. If the information is not on the device, it’s not visible to hackers.
As more of our lives become connected to our high-speed internet, security becomes even more important. Smart homes can make our lives easier and more efficient, but they come with security risks. By taking the above steps, you’ll be more protected while staying connected.
If you’re looking for further device protection — and identity theft protection — we recommend EarthLink Protect+, powered by NortonLifeLock.
Marie Flanagan is a contributing writer for EarthLink. She’s a life-long Atlantan with a passion for SaaS, IoT, AI, fintech, and everything technology. Her ideal offline situation is volunteering in STEM education for girls or on her front porch with a book.
See all posts from Marie Flanagan.