For many people, the concept of the smart home is something we have only dreamed of. We envisioned homes that automatically adjusted lighting, climate control and interacted with via voice command, all without us lifting a finger. With the growing use of smart gadgets, this vision is becoming a reality.
However, this convenience brings a new set of risks, as these devices are susceptible to cyber attacks and privacy breaches. It can be a little scary to manage the risks that come with using these gadgets in your home. Here’s how to protect your privacy and keep your home network secure.
What are the risks of smart devices in the home?
As with any internet-connected device, smart devices pose a security and privacy risk and can be vulnerable to hacking and being used to gain access to your home network. This is especially true for devices shipped with previous versions of firmware with multiple vulnerabilities. These early versions of software often contain security flaws that had not yet been discovered and fixed.
Smart devices can often collect personal data and store information such as usage patterns, addresses, Wi-Fi network credentials, and even video and audio recordings if equipped with a microphone or camera, posing a significant privacy risk.
Your home should always feel like a comfortable and safe place to be. Let’s take a look at ways to reduce the security risks of hosting these devices in your modest home.
1. Keep your devices updated
Software and firmware updates are necessary to keep smart home devices secure. Smart devices will often receive security updates that address known vulnerabilities and potential threats. Typically included in these updates are hotfixes, firmware updates, and security patches that provide protection against previously unknown application security flaws.
Often, the updates will also bring new features and improvements, so it’s definitely worth regularly checking for and applying device updates. By routinely keeping your devices and software running on the latest update version, you reduce the risk of cyber-attacks, data theft and privacy violations.
2. Change the default password on the device
Smart devices come with standard login credentials that are more often than not published in online user guides for ease of accessibility when the device is factory restored; this is actually very common with security cameras and doorbells.
One of the most effective ways to protect your devices from being accessed by unwanted parties is to change the default password to a complex, strong and unique password. This would be a password with multiple letters, numbers, and symbols that are difficult to guess. If you have multiple devices, use a different password for each device and consider storing them in a password manager.
3. Use strong network encryption
Most smart devices establish their connection to the Internet through your home network using your home wireless connection. The security of these devices is only as strong as your wireless network encryption. Use strong encryption protocols such as WPA2 or WPA3 on your home wireless network and avoid outdated technology such as WEP and WPA.
Both wireless security and the means to break it are constantly evolving. Keeping your wireless network encryption and technology up-to-date is critical to staying ahead of potential threats and keeping your smart home secure.
4. Disable unnecessary features
Smart devices come with many features, not all of which you may want to enable or want to use. Features such as remote access and management and file sharing can increase the risk of your devices being compromised or discovered by malicious hackers. Some smart devices come with public accessibility built-in.
In particular, when using any device capable of recording and streaming audio and video, make sure this feature is disabled. Enable such features only when necessary and disable them when you no longer need the feature.
5. Network Subnet Separation
A very effective method of preventing smart devices from accessing your personal devices and limiting network snooping is to create a new subnet on your home network and assign IP addresses from this new network to your smart devices. Subnet separation involves creating a new LAN-Local (Local Area Network-Local) IP subnet. Assigning restrictions via security policies and access control prevents devices on both networks from communicating.
If you are not familiar with how network addressing works, an easy and effective method to separate the smart devices is to create a wireless guest network on your router. By default, the guest network should only have access to the gateway, and devices on the guest network will not be able to interact with network devices on the designated local network. This limits the ability of smart devices to snoop on your PC and mobile devices.
6. Enable geoblocking
Geoblocking involves blocking access to your network and devices from specific geographic locations. Geoblocking may restrict access to your devices from countries with a known high incidence of cybercrime and from which you have no legal network connections. Smart devices and associated accounts may have the ability to limit these connections to individual devices depending on their software capabilities.
Many routers also offer geo-blocking, which restricts access from selected countries from accessing your network. Enabling geo-blocking helps protect your smart devices and network from detection, scanning, and cyber-attacks. This will significantly reduce the likelihood of your smart home devices being compromised.
7. Limitation of Account Access
The more accounts that have administrative access to a smart device, the greater the risk of unauthorized users gaining access. Limiting account access to one main account with administrator privileges reduces the likelihood of the device being compromised through account hacking. Having just one account also means you’ll be handing out less personal information like family members’ names, email addresses, and phone numbers to device manufacturers.
If there is a requirement for each family member to have an account, limiting access by creating one account for each family member with reduced administrative privileges is still a good way to reduce the data exposure risk posed by cloud-based internet-connected smart devices.
8. Creating firewall rules
An effective method of securing smart devices is to control network traffic reaching the device using firewall rules. In addition to creating a new subnet or guest network for the devices, incoming traffic can be blocked through the router from specific IP addresses or ports commonly used by hackers such as FTP (21), SSH (22), and HTTP/S (80/443) .
You can also create firewall rules that only allow outbound traffic, ensuring that the devices cannot be accessed from outside your network. This can prevent unauthorized access and means that data only stays within your home network. Some router firewalls also have the ability to create application-specific rules. These rules, when applied to your devices, only allow connections from a specific application or network protocol.
9. Network Monitoring and Intrusion Detection
Network monitoring and IDS (Intrusion Detection Service) are important tools to help secure your smart devices and your home network. Free network monitoring tools such as WireShark and PRTG Network Monitor can be installed and used to monitor network traffic and create sophisticated logs for analysis.
Free and open source IDS software such as Snort and Suricata detect suspicious and unusual network traffic and issue alerts via email, SMS or through an application in real time. Combining both IDS and network monitoring is an effective way to keep you informed of both home network and smart device activity.
10. Use a VPN
A VPN, or virtual private network, is an effective way to protect home networks and devices. The VPN connection can be applied to both supported devices via software settings and your home network via your router. This will anonymize the traffic and hide your public IP address. When purchasing a VPN service, you should research a provider that has good connection speeds and reliable servers in your own country.
Many commercially available and open source routers and firewalls also have the ability to create a VPN connection to your home network. Instead of forwarding ports and IP addresses of smart devices to a public interface, connect to your home network via VPN from a PC or smartphone. You can then interact with the devices from a locally assigned IP address.
Do not rely on the security provided by smart device manufacturers
Ultimately, you are responsible for securing your network against the security and privacy risks associated with having smart devices in your home. By implementing a multi-layered approach, you can greatly reduce the risk of having your data stolen or your home network and devices compromised.
It is important to remember that no security measure is foolproof. Stay ahead of potential security breaches by staying vigilant and keeping up to date with the latest cyber security news.