How connected is your home? It's no secret that more than 80% of us enjoy the benefits of a WiFi network that allows us to work on our tablet, smartphone or laptop anywhere around the home. Around a third of us also use WiFi to connect a range of other devices to our home network.
Do you have a smart home?
Smart televisions and gaming consoles are routinely connected to the internet, but today more of us are using WiFi to add household appliances, including alarms, thermostats, and household lighting to our networks so that they can be controlled remotely. The new generation of household appliances promise smart internet-connected programmable control for your lighting, central heating, hot water, and more all conveniently operated using a standard smartphone or tablet.
Added convenience brings added dangers
Being able to operate your home heating while you are at work means that you can be sure of returning to a warm home in the evening, but it also opens the possibility that anyone else with the right passwords and software could also access your heating system. Cyber attacks on smart appliances and non-computing home systems are still fairly rare but they are starting to increase as the number household appliances become WiFi connected grows.
A recent survey for HSB, a major insurer for data and information risks discovered that 10% of respondents that experienced some form of cyber attack, Timothy Zeilman, vice president and counsel for HSB said:
“home devices like smart TVs and appliances are often designed for easy use and not security. Compounding the problem, many consumers don’t take even basic measures such as changing default passwords and updating security software.”
Does it really matter?
Is there really much danger in allowing unauthorised access to your boiler? What's the harm in someone knowing how hot or cold your home is? Actually, the damage could be quite significant. Those who have experienced attacks through their home device can testify that finding unwanted software on their systems, or having their operating systems damaged is very far from a joke. However, these are far from the most serious potential problem. Knowing when your heating is off during the day makes your property a tempting target for burglars, and even tells them how long they have to finish the job before you will return home.
What appliances are vulnerable?
The popular Hive Active Heating App was recently found to be vulnerable to hacking. The app was sending unencrypted information over insecure networks, meaning that anyone could discover when the home heating would switch on or off, or even when the homeowner was 'awake' or 'away'. Hive have now promised to update the app and encrypt this sensitive information.
It's not just your WiFi router that can expose your family to a security breach. If you have a home CCTV system then you may think that you are protecting your home from unwanted attention, the reality is that if you purchase the wrong system you could be exposing your family to greater risk. Wireless security cameras may be easier to install than the wired variety but because they communicate through WiFi they are a risk unless they ensure that their signal is encrypted and cannot be easily accessed by the general public. A recent investigation by Which found several CCTV brands operate over the public internet with a default administrator account and no password, meaning anyone can watch the live feed from your home and see exactly what your security camera is watching.
Perhaps most worrying for parents is the growth in Smart children’s toys. Technology opens up many new possibilities for learning and fun but it does come with hidden dangers. Most parents wouldn't let a young child use social media or the internet unattended, but a stuffed toy may not be seen as an obvious risk. There are now several brands of soft toys that enable children to receive messages from friends and family. Receiving voice messages from family sounds like fun, but what if it's a stranger sending messages to your child? These toys communicate through WiFi and if your WiFi is not secure then potentially anyone could access that toy and send a message through it.
What steps can you take to make your smart home more secure?
The greatest risk to your home security comes from hackers. The first step in beating the hackers is to always purchase from a brand you trust. When it comes to security larger brands are normally more trustworthy. They have the resources to maintain the security of their products and where issues are discovered they can act quickly to distribute security patches to keep you one step ahead of the hackers.
However, you can't just rely on the manufacturers. You must take responsibility for your own home security. Your manufacturer may provide the needed updates to protect against the latest threats but unless you take the time to run the updates your home isn't protected.
Your wireless router is at the heart of your smart home, how protected is it? Have you changed the password since it was installed or are you still using the default password provided by the manufacturer? Has the router received the latest security updates or is it lagging behind?
Think about your physical home security
It's not just remote hackers that can pose a threat. There are always going to be people who have access to your home for a variety of legitimate reasons. How can you be sure that these visitors are not compromising your home security? If you purchase a thermostat or other device with a direct port connection, either USB or Ethernet, anyone can easily make changes to your thermostat via that port. Don't leave a stranger alone in an area where they can gain access to your system. Perhaps most critical of all, and the most common cyber security flaw is the practice of having your wireless router password written on the top of your wireless router. Anyone coming into your home can quickly write down or photograph the password and then your entire home becomes vulnerable. If you must keep a record of your password put it somewhere that is not easily accessible by a visitor.
There is no need to avoid the use of smart technology, used well it improves life for everyone. Be aware of the potential dangers and taking these simple, practical steps guard against them. Being conscious of the cyber-threats will go a long way towards ensuring the protection of your home and your family.