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If you?re as big a fan of home and garden gadgets as we are, you?ll undoubtedly have found your home becoming smarter in recent times ? and smart home security has never been more critical. Whether you?ve opted for mobile control of your lights with Hue or bought yourself a robot vacuum, these devices connect to your home network and, in many cases, the internet, to enhance functionality like never before.
The worry that most have as they smarten their home up is that more connectivity naturally makes for easier access. It is rare that a home invader would break into your property to turn the fridge off, simply because the effort outweighs the results ? unless they are particularly passionate about making your weekly shop go to waste. Of course, these concerns are never entirely unfounded. The 2018 story about baby monitors being hacked and used remotely as webcams made the rounds, and there is no getting away from the fact that anything that can be accessed remotely while not being appropriately protected can be vulnerable.
We use plenty of smart tech in the home, but we want to ensure that we are the only ones that can access the lights, doorbell, vacuum and everything else. With all that in mind, we?ve put together our top tips to ensure that your home network, and everything on, remains secure.
Take Full Advantage of Two-Factor Authentication for Smart Home Security
Not all smart devices require users to enter a username and password. Indeed, in most cases, you?ll either use a mobile app or WPS to add your smart device to the network automatically. However, between the devices themselves and remote access through your phone, you?ll need to make use of a username and password at some point.
When given the option, we would always recommend that you use 2FA or two-factor authentication. You?ve probably encountered it before during your online life but, if not, it is a backup access method used in conjunction with a password. There are authenticator apps for all mobile devices, like the Google Authenticator, which takes care of everything to do with 2FA once setup. More primitively, and uncommonly for smart home gadgets, you might get a code to your phone that you will enter as part of the login process.
In short, if you can protect any aspect of your smart home with more than just a password, you should do.
Use Your Router for a Secondary Network
Not everyone that may want to access your network is inherently suspicious. If you give out Wi-Fi access to friends and family when they visit like it’s going out of style, then you should take advantage of a guest network. They might find it funny to turn the television and lights on and off, but it’s rarely as entertaining for you as it might sound. Once they?re on your Wi-Fi network, that?s all the security credentials they need to take control.
You could become a bad host and decide that Wi-Fi no longer comes as standard for visitors. However, if you value those friendships and don?t want to sound tight, you can opt instead to set up a separate Wi-Fi network, exclusively for guests.
As the name suggests, a guest network avoids your main Wi-Fi setup and, to all intents and purposes, anyone on the guest network may as well be on a separate network on the other side of the world for all the access it will provide to your smart gizmos.
Alternatively, if you trust your friends and other visitors implicitly with your Wi-Fi credentials, you could always opt instead to place your smart devices on a combination of standard and guest networks. These networks remain in operation at all times, so you won?t lose any access to your devices as you move around. However, if half your devices and half on another, anyone that gains access to one network will need to get lucky twice to get hold of all your smart tech.
Stay Up to Date
Smart home security is not exactly rocket science, just as might be expected given the mass-market appeal of various devices. It isn?t overly simple either ? hence the requirement for features such as this one ? but a lot of your network protection requirements can be covered with a bit of common sense.
Even if you?re new to smart home security and the associated technology, you?ve probably been using computers for years and will be familiar with the idea of updating your software as quickly as you can. To users, the most appealing parts of a software update are the new features and tricks. On the backend, however, they allow software providers to update their security and fix any bugs. Many network security breaches are caused by exploits, where would-be hackers take advantage of a vulnerability in the code or system. The developers are sometimes not even aware of these bugs, but enough people are working in the smart home security field and software security in general that they are soon made aware.
The next patch or update is where they make changes to the code to eliminate the bugs, so it is in your best interests to download and apply that update as quickly as you can after it becomes available ? even if it doesn?t add any new scenes to your Hue bulbs or add Amazon Video to your smart fridge.
Consider Which Features You Really Need
Smart technology is denoted as such because it forms part of the Internet of Things, but the devices themselves are pretty intelligent too. They?re computers, after all, and this means that you often have more flexibility than the defaults that come out of the box. The point here is that it is possible to boost your smart home security by merely disabling features you do not use.
We can take a robot vacuum as an example. A Roomba is a pretty smart piece of kit, and unless you?re shopping in the bargain basement, then chances are you?ll have one with all the bells and whistles included. Among other things, that means online connectivity. You might be the sort of person that starts a clean while you?re at work so you can come home to tidy floors. Then again, you might be the kind of person that presses the button and lets the robot get to work.
In the latter case, you don?t really need online connectivity as the only real use for it is remote access. If you don?t need it, turn it off as even the most skilled network hackers cannot remotely access a device that isn?t on a network. Of course, we do not want to compromise on the functionality of our devices, so it makes sense to be selective, but decide which device requires access to what networks and turn everything else off.
Don?t Overlook Certifications as Part of Smart Home Security
In the grand scheme of things, smart devices form part of a fledgeling industry, and we have no idea of the rules and regulations that may ultimately come into play to govern their operation. There is also the fact that different countries will require manufacturers to meet specific standards.
You?ll have encountered certification before as you?ve put together your smart home. Perhaps the most commonly seen is ?Works with Alexa?, denoting that you can give voice commands to the piece of kit in question. That?s self-explanatory, and you either need it, or you don?t, but you should take a look at any further certifications before any smart device purchase.
In the UK, for example, smart alarms must hold certain certifications to become eligible for direct emergency service responses or insurance discounts. That?s why cheap and cheerful is fine if you just want something to do the job. However, if you want a truly smart home alarm system, it is worth looking into something like the Yale Sync Smart Home Alarm Family Kit. Not only is it certified to work with Alexa, but it is also approved by the National Security Inspectorate to enable real-time monitoring and response.
Avoid Remote Access over Public Wi-Fi
We have a love-hate relationship with public Wi-Fi at the best of times. If the phone signal is weak or we do not want to use our data, we can hop on the free Wi-Fi to do whatever it is we have planned. However, you?ll have seen tips and advice to avoid the transmission of any sensitive information over public Wi-Fi, such as not logging in to your bank account when in use.
While someone sneaking a peek through your Ring doorbell?s camera is not the end of the world compared to gaining full access to your bank account, it is preferably avoided if you have smart home security in mind. Wait until you can access a private network that you trust or stick with your phone?s data plan if you need to do something in your smart home when you?re not physically there.
Your Phone forms Part of the Smart Home Security Plan
Part of the appeal of smartening up your home is the fact that you don?t even need to be there to get things done. We have mentioned remote access at various points in this feature and also suggested disabling it at times if it won?t be required. However, there will be some gadgets that are simply not as useful without remote access, and you?ll use your phone or tablet to control them from outside the home.
Such influence makes your mobile device a vital component of the network and a pivotal part of smart home security. You?ll have noticed that you rarely need to log in to remote apps every time they load ? they tend to assume that if you can access the registered device, you have the right credentials to manage the network. That is great for ease of use, but not so fantastic if the mobile device in question falls into the wrong hands.
Take your mobile security seriously with regular updates and secure the device itself to keep any unauthorised users out. This means smart passcodes if you do not have access to fingerprint or face scan technology, and don?t let an unlocked phone out of your site unless you are only among friends and people you trust.
Bigger Brands Often Mean Better Security
You?ll often pay a premium for brand names ? a concept that is not unique to the smart home by any means. However, there is more to these big brands than paying for the name and, in the context of smart home security, they simply have more significant resources to keep everything secure. We mentioned already that bugs could make for the ideal entry point into a home setup, and it is up to the programmers at the provider to get that sorted.
Small companies staff themselves for research, design, manufacturing and sales above all else. They know that security is essential, but it may just be one programmer ? and potentially one that combines his duties with manning the business?s IT helpdesk. If they have a lot on their plate, they don?t have time to find the bugs themselves, nor to fix them promptly.
Conversely, larger companies have entire teams of programming and security professionals on hand to ensure that nothing goes wrong. They are not infallible, but when something does go wrong, they have the workforce to put it right in a timely fashion.
This tip is not a hard and fast rule, as even larger companies are susceptible to attacks. Indeed, in being larger, they have a bigger market share, and that makes them more attractive targets for any hacker or other attackers that operate on volume. Nevertheless, the point stands that they are best positioned to put right anything that goes wrong.
Don?t Underestimate the Part that Passwords have to Play in Smart Home Security
We spoke of how any opportunity to add to passwords as natural defences in your smart home should be taken, but we cannot ignore the fact that in real terms, passwords are the best option. They are the best defence to prevent anyone that shouldn?t be on your network from being there and come as standard, so they should be taken seriously.
The approach to passwords for smart home security is the same as any other kind of password. Make them impossible to guess, do not write them down and update them regularly ? especially if you feel that your security has been compromised.
These passwords will also rely on password recovery through email, so ensure that your email accounts are strongly protected. Funnily enough, two-factor authentication tends to come as standard on email accounts and, as with your smart home gadgets, it should not be ignored.
Have a Contingency in Place
Any form of network security is an arms race, and you never know which side will gain an edge at any given time. If the worst should happen, it can be tempting to panic and procrastinate, but this obviously does not lead to a swift recovery. Make sure that you have an idea of what to do if you find that your smart home equipment has been breached. Remedial action could be something as simple as unplugging your router while you identify and fix the problem.
Make sure you know which smart gadgets may have been affected by an attack and work through them individually to ensure that they can recover before they go back online. Keep an eye on the news too ? if you stick with larger brands, you won?t need to look beyond mainstream news outlets to find widespread vulnerabilities or product recalls.
Naturally, you?ll need to keep any compromised devices in quarantine until you know the issue is fixed. Depending on your own expertise, it may well be worth having some kind of electronics repair service on speed dial, so you can get back up and running with minimal interruption.
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Last update on 2020-12-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API