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Is your home being invaded by ‘digital burglars?'

If you have lots of ‘smart’ devices, experts say it may be

Photo (c) Maskot - Getty Images
Chances are your home has a few “smart devices,” things like video doorbells or a thermostat you can control with your smartphone. They can make life easier but cybersecurity experts warn that “digital burglars” can use them to virtually burglarize your home.

Steve Grobman, chief technology officer (CTO) at McAfee, points to a recent study by the Florida Institute of Technology that found that the companion apps for several big brand smart devices had security flaws. That's a problem since all of these devices connect to the internet.

“Eight of the 20 apps associated with connected doorbells, locks, security systems, televisions, and cameras they studied…could allow attackers to intercept and modify their traffic,” Grobman told ConsumerAffairs. “This could lead to the theft of login credentials and spying, or it could lead to the compromise of the connected device itself. That’s unsettling, given that we’re talking about things like smart door locks.”

The experts we consulted said smart home devices are like any other device that connects to the internet. They need strong protection.

Start with strong passwords

Lumen Technologies Chief Privacy Officer (CPO) Hugo Teufel, a former CPO at Dept. of Homeland Security, says all of these devices need strong passwords and should have access to regular software updates. 

“The best decision anyone can make? Make sure their smart device’s operating software and apps are updated when that update becomes available,” he told us.

Michael Gibbs, the CEO of Go Cloud Careers, says not all smart devices are created equal when it comes to security. Some are more hackable than others. 

Some of the things that determine a smart device’s strength against a hack include the operating system firmware, and the degree of security integrated into the product. Older devices may be more vulnerable.

“If consumers' devices are hacked many problems can occur, ranging from doors being unlocked, personal information being stolen, and cameras recording peoples’ private lives, to life-threatening problems like fires in ovens and other appliances if they were to be remotely hacked and turned on,” Gibbs said.

What to do

What can consumers do to protect themselves? First, be aware of the potential threat. Then, mount a strong defense.

“Broadly speaking, they involve two things: protecting your devices and protecting the network they’re on,” Grobman said. “These security measures will look familiar, as they follow many of the same measures you can take to protect your computers, tablets, and phones.”

And it should go without saying that consumers should create strong user names and passwords. Most devices will come with default security credentials. If you don’t change them – and many consumers don’t – even a novice hacker can break in.

Since many smart devices can be controlled with a smartphone, Teufel says it’s important to keep the phone’s operating system up to date.

“Using the most current operating system, apps and web browsers help defend your phone and its contents against online threats,” he said.

In addition to smartphones, your home internet network is also a first line of defense. Grobman says you may need to upgrade to a new router if you’re using an older one lacking strong security features. Gibbs agrees that protecting the network is critical.

“If a hacker can get on the network, they can hack these devices,” Gibbs told us. “The best protection is to keep hackers out by using a firewall to protect the network, using strong passwords, patching all systems to protect against security vulnerabilities, and leveraging security software like antivirus and antimalware to protect the systems on the network.”

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