6 Tips for Securing Vulnerable Smart Home Technology

Posted by Pekin Insurance on Mar 27, 2019

6 min read

Don't trade top-notch convenience for low-level cybersecurity. 

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Overview: 
Science fiction has struck out on a few guesses, like flying cars roaming the skies in 2005 or humans living on the moon in 1999. However, sci-fi has accurately predicted 3D printing, robotic vacuums, wearable technology, and smart homes.

In sci-fi books and movies, villains use technology for sinister motives. In real life, cyber thieves are the villains. That’s why you need to know these 6 tips for securing vulnerable smart home technology.

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What Does “Smart Home” Mean?

SmartHomeUSA defines a smart home as: 
“A residence that has appliances, lighting, heating, air conditioning, TVs, computers, entertainment audio and video systems, security, and camera systems that are capable of communicating with one another and can be controlled remotely by a time schedule, from any room in the home, as well as remotely from any location in the world by phone or Internet.”

Additional smart home devices include:

  • Door locks
  • Smoke alarms
  • Vacuum cleaners
  • Smart speakers such as Google Home and Amazon Echo


According to a report created by NPR and Edison Research, smart speakers are owned by 21% of the United States population over the age of 18. That’s 53 million people!  The same report found that smart speaker ownership in U.S. households grew by 78% from December 2017 to December 2018.

 

Smart Home Advantages 

When you start making your home “smart,” you’ll gain the benefits of:

  • Energy efficiency
  • Synced and automated processes
  • Extra security for your home when you’re not there
  • Numerous devices being controlled from a tablet or phone

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Smart Home Vulnerabilities

Some smart home disadvantages include:

  • Dedicating time to research before setup
  • Paying large setup costs
  • Relying on IT professionals when something goes wrong
  • Having your data collected by devices

Last, but certainly not least, companies have no cybersecurity requirements for the smart devices they create. Cyber thieves exploit unsecure devices, and they’re like safecrackers who easily bypass poorly built locks.

To demonstrate the modern cyber thief’s skills, CBC Marketplace hired a team of ethical hackers to compromise a family’s smart home. With a successful phishing email, the hackers:

  1. Opened the home’s front door
  2. Logged in to the family’s Nest security camera
  3. Hijacked the family’s Amazon Echo and sent voice commands to it

 

Device Hijacking

A hacker looks for a point of entry on one device and then uses it to control other devices. For example, a hacker could enter through a smart washing machine and gain access to connected devices like doors or ovens.

As we mentioned earlier, smart devices often collect your data. Cyber thieves attempt to steal this data and use it for purchases.

 

Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

Man-in-the-middle attacks happen when a hacker compromises an email address, browser, or Wi-Fi network to intercept communications. When a smart home suffers one of these attacks, the “man in the middle” has found a way to intercept communication between two systems or devices. This breach can be used to:

  • Fake temperatures on a smart thermostat
  • Disable HVAC systems
  • Steal confidential information

 

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6 Tips for Securing Smart Home Vulnerabilities

 

1. Use Multi-Factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication requires you to provide an extra piece of information before you log in to an account. One kind of multi-factor authentication sends an access code to you in a text message.

This adds an extra layer of security to your devices. Unfortunately, cyber thieves know how to hijack this process by stealing phone numbers and swiping access codes. That’s why it’s preferable to use software or hardware for mobile multi-factor authentication. 

Many smart home devices have built-in multi-factor authentication. If you purchase a smart home device that doesn’t have this built in, use an app like Microsoft Authenticator, Authy, or Google Authenticator to set it up.

 

2Reinforce Your Wi-Fi Router

Your Wi-Fi router isn’t something you should set up and forget about. You’ll need to update its firmware, login, and password. This in-depth lifehacker guide provides more router safety recommendations, including:

  • Securing your network with WPA2
  • Turning off WPS
  • Using MAC filtering
  • Scheduling Wi-Fi
  • Disabling questionable services

Contact an IT professional or tech-savvy family member if you’re not comfortable making these changes by yourself.

 

3. Download System Updates

You probably receive notifications to download system updates on your smart home devices. Don’t ignore these notifications! System updates often include patch updates that address security flaws in devices.

 

4. Use Two Home Networks

Depending on which devices you purchase, your smart home could control critical processes like heating and cooling. That’s why it’s a good idea to create a separate wireless network for your smart home devices. The other network can be used for devices such as computers, smartphones, and tablets.

 

5. Make Wise Wi-Fi Choices When You’re Away From Home

A smart security camera allows you to view real-time footage from your phone when you’re not at home. This may give you peace of mind, but it could open you up to more cybersecurity risks if you access the device through an unsecure Wi-Fi connection. 

Use these four steps to avoid Wi-Fi cyber theft:

  • Connect to a trusted network or don’t connect at all
  • Don’t use your email address or phone number to log in to a network
  • Connect to a VPN
  • Use multi-factor authentication

 

6. Decide Which Smart Devices You Really Need

In 2017, cyber thieves accessed a smart fish tank at a casino and tried to use it for a cyberattack. Did this casino really need to connect a fish tank to the Internet? As you shop for smart home devices, ask yourself if the convenience justifies the risk.

 


When you’re protected by Homeowners Insurance from Pekin Insurance,® you can add Identity Fraud Protection Services to your policy. This coverage offers proactive services, resolution services, and document replacement assistance if your personal information falls into the wrong hands.

Contact your local Pekin Insurance agent to gain extra security from Identity Fraud Protection Services.  Contact your local Pekin Insurance agent today!

 

 

 

  

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