How to stay safe with the Internet of Things

IoT security
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Can you turn on your thermostat even when you’re not at home? Or maybe you have an app on your phone that automatically opens your door locks. If so, then your home devices are a part of the Internet of Things (IoT).

The IoT refers to anything that is connected to the Internet, which now includes coffee makers, washing machines, headphones, lamps, wearable devices and almost anything else you can think of.  On a broader scale, IoT can be applied to things like transportation networks and smart cities which can help us reduce waste and improve energy efficiency.

Technology consulting firm Gartner predicts that consumers used 8.4 billion IoT devices in 2017, up from 30 percent from 2016. And that number will grow to nearly 21 billion devices by 2020.

Hackers used to only target computers and mobile devices, but now they are turning their attention to IoT devices because they are a lot easier to hack. Indeed, in 2016, a botnet called Mirai launched a denial-of-service (DDoS) attack against a cybersecurity website.

While DDoS attacks are nothing new, this time it didn’t come from infected computers. Instead, the attack came from infected IoT devices.

Why IoT security is so lax

The main problem with IoT devices is that in the rush to get these devices to market, security issues have been overlooked or are simply nonexistent. In fact, security is almost never a priority for IoT device makers. They usually follow poor security practices and have no software update mechanisms.

Building security into any product can be costly, slow down development, and sometimes prevent a device from functioning at its ideal speed and capacity.

How to protect your smart home

While many people have smart homes, few actually take time to evaluate their IoT security. Before you have your nanny cam or connected door locks hacked, take some time to follow these best practices:

  • Always thoroughly research the security features of any IoT device before purchasing – Be sure to see if you can modify the default privacy and security settings to the strongest possible settings.
  • If you already have purchased IoT devices, perform a security audit on all of them – What capabilities do they have? Do they allow firmware updates if security holes are discovered?
  • If possible, change the default password on all IoT devices – Can’t change a device password? Then choose a different device.
  • Make sure you are using strong passwords for each device Don’t use the same password on each device. And be sure to change them at least every six months.
  • Segment your network – If you want IoT devices in your home, separate them from networks that contain sensitive information (like your home WiFi network).
  • Use a home network scanner – Bulldog offers a great home network scanner which assesses your entire home network and every device on it, including IoT devices like thermostats, baby monitors, speakers, and more.
  • Disable any features you are not using, such as remote access

  • Use wired connections instead of wireless ones, if possible

The new rule for the future is going to be that anything that can be connected, will be connected. The IoT allows for virtually endless opportunities and connections to take place, many of which we can’t even think of or fully understand the impact of today.

For now, the best thing that we can do is educate ourselves about what the IoT is and the potential security impacts that may affect our lives.

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Jared Howe

Jared Howe is PRIVATE WiFi’s Senior Manager, Product Marketing Communications. Working in high tech for over 15 years, Jared currently lives in Seattle with his wife, daughter, and their two cats.