Personal Data Breaches & Your Smart Home
What is Home Automation?
Stepping into 2021, home automation is becoming more common in our lives. It is the automated control over electronic devices in your home. These can be the small things that you may have come accustomed to or still seem relatively new and exciting. Alexa, can you turn on the lights? Alexa, can you lock the front door?
The automatic control of electronic devices in your home is designed to make your life easier. Your home devices are connected to each other through the internet. This allows them to be controlled remotely by voice, by cell, app, or another device. With home automation, you don’t have to manage everything manually but can set devices up to trigger, start, or turn off another. You can put your lights and coffee on schedule. Automation can help save money and energy when you have your thermostat set to turn down when you are away but return to comfortable temperatures just as you enter from work.
This may sound like a great work of science fiction, but today’s home automation has made life much more convenient. It even helps families save money on utility bills. Home automation helps provide greater safety and security for families, homes, and even businesses with security cameras connected to the Internet of Things (IoT).
IoT and Smart Homes
What is the Internet of Things, and how does it impact home automation? The Internet of Things (IoT) technically defines the network of physical objects or ‘things’ that are connected via the internet. These things include all those great ‘smart’ products we fill our lives with like televisions, thermostats, security cameras, locks, refrigerators, and even our cars. These products that make our lives easier are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies that allow them to connect and exchange data with each other, with the internet, and with you.
Smart appliances and other ‘things’ have developed due to the union of multiple technologies, real-time analytics, machine learning, sensors, and other embedded systems. The coming together of automation, control systems, artificial intelligence, and other embedded systems and technologies all contribute to building what is defined as the internet of things. From a consumer perspective, IoT technology is synonymous with the marketing concept of the ‘Smart Home.’
The ‘Smart Home’ idea can include devices and appliances such as lighting, thermostats, security systems, cameras, and more that work together as a single ecosystem, controlled by the homeowner through devices, remotes, or scheduling. IoT may commonly be referred to in the Smart Home market, but it can also be used in many business and healthcare applications.
The conveniences all these modern technologies and devices have brought have not been without cost. There are serious concerns about the dangers of IoT. Much of the focus of these concerns are in the areas of privacy and security. Today, industries and governments worldwide are working together to develop a set of international standards to help address these security concerns. Until then, knowing the limits of the technology can keep us prepared and ahead of any downfalls.
Are Smart Homes Safe?
At one time, we were happy with our television remotes—one remote control connected to a single device. The first television remote was invented in the 1950s, and now, after nearly 70 years, there have been remote devices and applications developed for numerous devices, from our thermostats to our cars. Any device today, heating, door locks, lighting, can be controlled by remote, even a single remote, or through the internet. The ability to use electronic signals to manage your appliances helps give you total control of your home.
The modern connected home is designed to make our lives easier. However, enjoyable, there is a downside. When you connect these systems to the internet, you are also opening up your devices and your home to various security risks. The risk comes with any internet-connected device, which could be as minor but essential as your coffee maker or as complex as your security system.
These appliances and devices are significantly different than the tv remotes of the past. They can collect and store data about your preferences, habits, or other personal data. These applications use basic internet protocol to link up together through a central hub, which could be your home modem, router, or smartphone. Because of this, all the data collected about you, your habits, and your preferences a potential privacy risk. For each additional device or application that you add to your network, you also substantially increase your risk of a data breach of your personal information.
There are several reasons why there are risks for a potential data breach when using IoT devices. Primarily, individual devices may not have security. There is such a high demand for IoT home devices and competition to get the first one to market that smart home appliances are often rushed, and security may not have been thoroughly tested. Many IoT tools have lengthy user manuals, yet it does not address security or privacy concerns even with an exhaustive reading. How many times have you seen in the news that baby monitors were hacked?
As with any business data, at home, experts believe your approach should not think about what will happen ‘if’ you get hacked, but ‘when’ you get hacked. Many smart home appliances offer little protection and are easy to hack. Another issue with the loss of data to a criminal intruder is that usage patterns for various devices can be tracked to determine when you are away from home.
Even if security isn’t addressed in the user manual, you can outsmart your smart home gadgets. Learn more about IoT networked devices, vulnerabilities, and how you can take steps to reduce your risk for data breaches; if you control your home network from your primary internet or email account, it is more than your IoT device data be vulnerable. This could compromise a vast amount of your private information, emails, social media, and even financial data.
Many IoT devices can be controlled through a user’s smartphone. This can be very convenient and allow the user to control multiple devices with one remote application. The risk here is that now your phone has become a treasure trove of information for anyone wanting to damage your reputation, steal your identity, or even empty your bank accounts. This is considered a high-risk use of technology, especially if your phone is hacked or stolen. If you want to be sure that your home network and IoT devices are not compromised, include some of the following information and suggestions.
- Isolate Your Smart Home Network – One of the first steps to securing your IoT devices is to separate your ‘Smart Home Network’ from your other computing networks.
- Use Guest Networks – Creating guest networks helps improve your security and allow your guests to access WIFI when needed, but creating a guest network for all your ‘Smart Home’ devices is an easy way to separate their data connection.
- Review Security – Ensure all passwords that gain access to your network, controls, or delivery services are kept secure and are different from other passwords.
- Purchase Android or iOS Security – Even if you are not connecting Smart Home technology, this should be a given; protect your cell phone.
- Use Screen Locks – Your eyes are not always on your phone. Secure your device with screen locks. Your smartphone, if hacked or stolen, could give away the keys to your castle.
- Create Strong Passwords – This is an idea we should have all learned. Don’t use your birthday or ‘password123’ to protect your home. Use a mix of capital and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols.
- Change Administrative Settings – Alter the main computer account to not set at the administrative or root level. This will limit access if you are hacked.
- Alter Default Usernames & Passwords – Don’t get lazy and keep default username and passwords given with any hardware or software.
- Use Firewalls – Most routers and other hardware come with firewalls built-in. The problem is that the user has to turn it on.
- Purchase Top Quality Security Software – All of your computers, tablets, and phones should be protected with the most robust security software available to avoid malware or viruses.
- Update Regularly – Keep your software up to date; many times, the updates make repairs to vulnerabilities that hackers can easily exploit.
- Secure All Individual Devices – Once your network is secure, check each home device and ensure that the default passwords have been changed. Remember that not changing them means that every person who purchased the same product also has your password and can access your device and home. Change all passwords every six months.
- Change Voice Alerts – This is important for voice-activated devices. You can change the alert word from “OK Google” or “Hey Alexa” to something only known to you and your family. This prevents strangers from using voice commands to access your system.
Get Your Smart Home A VPN
Now that IoT-equipped homes will continue to become a mainstay of modern life, the numerous internet-connected devices within your house open up many more opportunities for hackers. It also means that you will have to up your game plan if you want to take home security and data protection seriously. One way to improve the overall safety of all the internet-connected devices in your home is to get your home a VPN.
We might feel safe in our homes, but the truth is that the internet is not a safe place. Hackers are lurking in the dark corners of the web looking to steal or find a fast buck at someone else’s expense. Governments in all countries, including the United States, have turned toward using the internet as a tool to monitor an individual’s activities. When adding multiple additional internet-connected devices, we don’t have to remember to turn off the lights or lower the thermostat. We must face the fact that we have opened ourselves and our homes to significant security and privacy risks.
It isn’t just our bank details that are being hunted. Hackers, governments, and corporations are harvesting data about every aspect of our lives. If you have security cameras inside or outside of your home, they can be hacked so that your every move can be watched in the privacy of your home. A VPN will help to protect your home from being accessed.
A VPN or Virtual Private Network can provide additional security for your home, network, and devices. Applications that run across a VPN gain the extra benefits of a private network’s functionality and safety. An inherent part of a VPN connection is that data shared over a VPN is encrypted and provides a higher security level.
A Smart Home may make life easy and breezy, but before you stumble and find your home security has been breached, take the time to learn more about the devices you are using and how they interact with the internet. Take the time to protect your devices, and in the end, your home and your data will benefit from the extra security.