5 Ways to Protect Your Internet of Things

written by

Ashley Cloud

February 4, 2019

We’re firmly in the post-holiday season. Finally, all the stress of shopping and travel is over. Now that you have time to breathe, maybe you’re just now getting around to setting up all those cool new smart home devices you were gifted. 

Some of the hottest gifts this holiday season included the Amazon Show and Google Home. In addition to what these devices do on their own, they can also connect all of your smart home devices through third party add-ons. It’s now possible to connect your entire home – you can turn on your lights with just your voice, start your coffee maker from your bed, or even have your water filtration pitcher order filters for you. (Think that last one’s made up? Check it out here.) Although this is certainly convenient, it also opens up some new vulnerabilities making it important for you to take steps to protect your Internet of Things.

While all these advances are designed to make your life easier, there are real risks to introducing WiFi connected products to your home.

James Sanders at TechRepublic recently put together a top five List of the Biggest IoT Security Failures of 2018. With all these security risks in mind, it’s a good idea to take a few proactive steps to protect your Internet of Things before your life becomes the inspiration for an episode of Black Mirror. 

Use a Guest Network 

Often, it’s the small items like smart plugs that are the most vulnerable to hacker attacks. But there have been instances of smart refrigerators being hacked as well. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to keep the sensitive information on your smart phone or computer from being compromised through your WiFi network. And that is to have two separate (and secured) networks. You can set up a Guest network through your WiFi router just for your smart home devices that uses a separate password. This ensures that if one of your smart home devices does get hacked, there’s a degree of separation between your smart home network and the one you use for your computers and smart phones.  

Setting up a guest network can vary by router model, but here is a quick generic guide to get you started.

Be sure to give any WiFi network you use a unique name. This is because hackers may be able to identify the make and model of your router based off the default network name. And while you’re at it, follow the next step for another layer of security. 

Create Unique Names and Passwords 

Many internet-connected devices and products come with a default username and password. Often, these aren’t unique to your device. They are used for every product of that make and model. So by making each username and password unique, you’re adding an additional layer of security to your network.  

Still, that can be a lot of passwords to remember. There is an easy solution, however. Password keeping software programs will securely store your passwords through encryption. So, you’ll only have to remember one password for the software.  

Don’t trust a password manager? Try coming up with categories for your passwords. Then you can safely record password hints instead of copying down the passwords themselves. Maybe all your smart home network devices use characters from your favorite books or are the titles of James Bond movies. Just be sure to add a number and symbol for even more protection. 

It’s also a good idea to change these passwords regularly. Try setting a reminder in your calendar to update your passwords. This would also be a good time to follow through on our next tip to protect your Internet of Things. 

Keep Your Software Updated 

Certain smart devices, like your phone or your game console, have easy ways to let you know when a software or security update is available. They can send push notifications whenever you use the device. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with many of your smart devices. You may have to go to the manufacturer’s website to see if an update is available. Try to do this on a regular basis. Updates often include patches for security flaws. Even if they don’t, they’re fixing some problem with your device. For the money you’re putting into these products, you want them to function as promised, right? 

Speaking of your hard-earned dollars, check out our next tip to protect your Internet of Things before you invest any more money into your smart network. 

Cheaper Isn’t Always Better 

Chances are you’ve started your smart home journey with a hub. Perhaps the aforementioned Amazon Echo or Google Home. But maybe now you’re looking to expand. Retailers are jampacked with smart items at all price points. It may be tempting to go for the cheapest option. But that low price tag comes at a cost you may not have considered. Often, a low cost means less testing for vulnerabilities. It probably also means no continuing tech support – meaning no security patches. All of this will provide hackers with the opportunity to attack your network or recruit your smart bulbs for a bot army.  

The simplest solution is to do your research before you buy. Wirecutter is a great resource for vetting smart home devices. They update their offerings regularly. And they even have an entire category devoted to smart home devices.

As you add on to your smart home network, follow our last tip for each new device. 

Check the Settings and Disable Features 

Just like the bloatware that comes pre-installed on your smart phone, your smart devices will have features enabled that may benefit the manufacturer more than you. They will also have default security settings that may not meet your standards. When you’re adding new devices to your network, review the default settings and see if you want to make any changes. 

A feature that you are likely to encounter that you may want to disable is Universal Plug in and Play or UPnP. True, this feature offers some convenience as it allows devices to connect to each other automatically. However, with convenience comes vulnerability. Taking the time to manually configure your devices eliminates the reliability on these protocols using local networks – which is what hackers leverage to access your network.

Register your Devices

You registered all your new devices, right? If you haven’t, check out the first post in this series, 3 Ways to Protect Your Tech Before It’s Stolen.

There are even more ways to protect your Internet of Things and home network (two-factor authentication, using a VPN, etc.) but these five tips are the easiest and quickest ways to get you started.

And if you enjoyed this article, read the last post in this three-part series, “5 Ways to Keep Your Child Safe Online.”

written by

Ashley Cloud

February 4, 2019

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    written by

    Ashley Cloud

    February 4, 2019

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    Ashley Cloud

    Ashley Cloud is a Senior Criminal Compliance Specialist at IP Services, Inc. She has a decade of experience on the Privacy and Compliance team and previously supported the Brand Protection team. She graduated from Edinboro University with a bachelor's degree in Painting and Printmaking. She works at IP Services' Erie location.