As time goes by and technology develops, we are bringing more and more internet-enabled devices into our houses. Financial services firm Morgan Stanley estimated that by 2020 there will be over 75 billion wirelessly connected devices in the world.
From the tiny meter readers in the hallway to the TV in your living room, all could be used by unscrupulous companies and hackers, both to gather information about you or to harness the computing power to generate huge Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.
Here are ten ways that you can ensure that your home is safe from unwanted digital intruders.
1. Set strong passwords
Virgin Media have recently been criticised for the weakness of the default passwords on their older Super Hub 2 routers, but many internet-enabled devices come with no passwords set at all. If you can set a password on your device, do it.
While no password is completely invulnerable to a brute force attack, longer passwords will keep you safer. A long passphrase of 16 characters or more, such as IFlewToAmer1caOnAJumb0Jet!, is not only easier to remember, it’s also far harder to hack than something nonsensical like &gyT$dr.
Change your passwords regularly, too. Then, even if a hacker or malicious piece of software does gain access to your home network, you can still frustrate their efforts.
It’s best not to recycle passwords and use them across multiple accounts and devices. But if remembering too many passwords is confusing, use free software such as LastPass or Dashlane on your PC and mobile devices to ease the burden of trying to remember them all.
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2. Update your software regularly
One big issue with internet-enabled devices is that often they lack a way to inform you that they need an update. All reputable suppliers will regularly release patches to ensure their devices are protected from malicious software, so it pays to make a point of regularly checking to see if your devices need updating.
The Mirai virus that caused trouble with many networks in the UK and Germany in 2016 had sat silently on many unsecured devices for some time before it was activated. Such pieces of malicious code are hard to detect, and can be devastating when they’re unleashed. Updating and securing your devices will stop these codes being activated, if they ever makes it onto your device in the first place.
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3. Complete the set-up process
Some smart devices use their own limited Wi-Fi during set-up. Make sure that your device is properly connected to your own secure Wi-Fi network at the end of the set-up process.
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4. Strengthen your Wi-Fi network
Most modern routers have a host of options to create multiple networks. You could create a public network for friends to connect to when they visit, and a private one for your computers and mobile phones. Connect your internet-enabled devices to the public connection, allowing them to communicate with each other, but if they are vulnerable, they still won’t affect your main computing devices.
You could even turn off broadcasting your Wi-Fi connections, and simply type the connection name in when you wanted to connect. Hackers can’t hack what they don’t know is there.
5. Locate your Wi-Fi router carefully
Think about where you put your Wi-Fi router in the house, too. If it’s close to edge of your house or the road could open you up to neighbours or people passing attempting to access your network.
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6. Watch your utility bills
Smart Meter devices are becoming the norm in many UK households, but some older models are notoriously easy to hack, while more sophisticated models could allow malicious hackers to find out your electricity and gas usage, and even give false readings, resulting in massive bills for you. So keep an eye on your bills for any unusual readings and contact your energy provider if you think it’s been hacked.
Seven tips to cut your energy bills
7. Change the port on your IP camera
Most webcams operate on a default port. A simple look around the settings will allow you to change this to one of your choice and stop any hackers accessing the device. Many security savvy people put a bit of masking tape over their webcam, and mute the microphone when not in use.
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8. Don't connect to public Wi-Fi
If you’re out and about shopping and are tempted to check in on your security camera or turn the heating up a few degrees for when you get home, don’t connect via a public Wi-Fi connection in a coffee shop or shopping centre. These public Wi-Fi spots are unencrypted and an easy target for hackers to monitor your activity. If you’re using an app on your mobile phone, switch off the Wi-Fi and use the encrypted mobile network instead.
How to stay safe if you have to use public Wi-Fi
9. Bigger is better
When buying internet-connected devices, it’s always better to go with a well-known brand. The bigger brands will have better research and development teams and legal departments working for them to ensure their products are as safe as they can be and, if vulnerabilities are found, they will react quickly.
Read privacy policies to find out what information the device you are buying might be collecting. Most companies are explicit about the data they collect, particularly after smart TV maker, Vizio, was fined $2.2 million earlier this year after people realised that their viewing habits were being tracked and the information shared with third parties. Direct data sharing and intelligent systems that try to guess what you might want to watch based on your viewing activity can usually be turned off. Check through any options buried in your smart TV’s menus to see if this is the case.
10. Be smart speaker savvy
Voice-controlled speakers powered by smart personal assistants, such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home, will only send data for processing once the wake up word ‘Alexa’ or ‘Hey Google’ is uttered. While this minimises the chances of private conversations being recorded and sent out, even these are not invulnerable to hacking or fraud.
Which? recently conducted an experiment using a known hack on a CloudPet internet-connected toy to get it to speak to an Amazon Echo so it could order cat food.
While this was purely a bit of fun, it does show just how creative hackers can be once they get access to your network or devices, and the kind of unexpected havoc they could cause. But take steps to ensure your home network is as secure as you can make it, and it shouldn’t happen to you.
Find out more about the Amazon Echo