Young consumers are most concerned about smart device vulnerabilities

Photo (c) Qi Yang - Getty Images

Here’s how to keep hackers out

The American home is quickly filling up with “smart” devices and appliances that can be controlled with a smartphone.

They are no doubt handy. Thermostats can be controlled remotely, as can garage doors, refrigerators, and surveillance cameras. But because these devices all connect to the internet – part of the vast and still-growing Internet-of-Things (IoT) – they can be hacked, just like your PC.

Young consumers are among the most enthusiastic adopters of smart devices but are also among the most concerned about security. A recent survey conducted for Blackberry found 44% of Gen Z respondents and 42% of millennials have taken extraordinary steps to prevent hacking. 

They don’t connect their devices to the internet, which negates some of their benefits. Only 14% of baby boomers have disconnected their devices.

Just how widespread are hacking attacks on IoT devices? More than you might expect. While you might have a couple of layers of security on your PC you might have little to no protection for your thermostat.

A study cited by CBS News found an estimated 12,000 hack attempts each week on smart devices in American homes. The potential danger is not inconsequential.

Potential dangers

For example, cybersecurity experts say a hacker who breaks into your child’s baby monitor can watch your child. Got a smart speaker? A clever hacker can turn it into a listening device.

If you have surveillance cameras throughout your home they can break into the cameras and watch everyone in the family. If they are particularly twisted they could raise and lower the temperature in the house and turn appliances on and off.

If a hacker can get into one of your smart devices then they can probably get to your router, breaking into computers and tablets that are connected to the internet. 

Security experts say that in many cases, smart devices are vulnerable because consumers don’t think about them being connected to the internet and pay little attention to security. Even if they take proper step, threats can exist.

“It is worth noting that most IoT devices utilize open-source operating systems and are built upon readily available hardware and networks,” Fariha Rizwan, the CIO of Z2C Limited, a venture catalyst, told ConsumerAffairs. “Unfortunately, the inherent vulnerabilities inherent in open-source software further increase their susceptibility to potential attacks.”

What to do

To increase security, take an inventory of all IoT devices in your home. Don’t leave anything out.

Then, each device needs a unique and secure password. The device will come with a default username and password. Change both.

Smart devices have operating software. Make sure you have the latest version, just like you would for the PC’s browser. 

“Regularly updating the software of Internet of Things devices is crucial, as it ensures the inclusion of the latest anti-malware and antivirus safeguards,” Rizwan said. “Additionally, such updates help rectify any security vulnerabilities present in older software versions. Given the relentless advancements in hacking techniques, it is imperative to remain vigilant and consistently update software, thereby fortifying oneself against potential external threats.

If you have a number of smart devices in your home it might be wise to upgrade your router with a strong firewall that can deflect an attack. Having good security software on your PCs and tablets can also alert you to unusual activity on your system.

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