How to Secure Your Smart Home: A Step-by-Step Guide

Tips & Advice

How many rooms in your home contain a smart device? From security cameras to showerheads with Bluetooth speakers, smart home technology is rapidly making its way into every room in every household. In fact, the number of smart households (those that contain smart home technology) in the U.S. is expected to grow to 77.05 million by 2025. But with new technology comes new challenges.  

Many product designers rush to get their smart devices to market, treating security as an afterthought and consequentially creating an easy access point for criminals to exploit. Once a hacker taps in to a user’s home network, they could potentially gain access to all the devices connected to the network. And many consumers, amazed by the appliances’ efficiency, are unaware of the risks of interconnectivity. So, how can families prevent criminals from taking peeks into their home? 

Let’s take a tour through an average smart home and uncover the security implications of the various devices in each room.  

Knock, Knock, Anyone Home?  

Believe it or not, the security risks of a smart home often apply before you even step foot inside the house. Approximately 21 million U.S. homes have professionally monitored security systems. However, these systems are not immune to hacks. One popular security camera system experienced a series of intrusions where hackers were able to communicate with residents, making inappropriate comments, taunting children, and even demanding a ransom payment for the hacker to leave the system. Some users of another security camera system experienced similar intrusions, with hackers playing vulgar music and cranking the homeowners’ heat up to 90 degrees.  

Security cameras are just the beginning. Users control mowers, smart sprinklers, and other outdoor devices remotely with smartphone apps. Although they are meant to make consumers’ lives more convenient, outdoor devices with embedded computers could be at the greatest risk of attack, according to professor of computer science and cybersecurity expert, Dr. Zahid Anwar 

Outdoor devices like garage door openers, wireless doorbells, and smart sprinklers are more vulnerable because they may be easily accessible to someone driving down the street with a computer or other Wi-Fi transmitter. Outdoor smart devices can be used as entry points, allowing hackers to access the entire smart home network. To prevent a stranger from spying on your network, it’s important to check how these products store your data. If the device’s system stores your personal information and is connected to the main home network, there is a possibility that a breach of one device on the network could reveal your data to a hacker.  

“Alexa, Who’s Spying on My Living Room?”  

Once you step foot into a smart home, you’ll likely find a variety of devices adopted by residents for added convenience, including smart TVs, Wi-Fi routers, smart speakers, thermostats, lightbulbs, and personal home assistants — the list goes on! But the fact that these devices are connected to the internet opens the door for cybercriminals to make themselves at home. For example, the FBI issued warnings about the risks of smart TVs, noting that hackers could potentially gain access to an unsecured television and take control by changing channels, adjusting volume levels, and even showing inappropriate content to children.  

Additionally, a recent study outlined multiple privacy concerns with a popular virtual assistant, ranging from misleading privacy policies to allowing third parties to change the code of their programs after receiving approval from the device’s parent company. Anupam Das, assistant professor of computer science at North Carolina State University, stated that third-party software developers created many of the applications consumers interact with while using the virtual assistant. However, Das and their fellow researchers identified several flaws in the current vetting process that could allow those third parties to gain access to users’ personal information. The virtual assistant’s parent company does not verify the developer responsible for publishing the third-party program, so a cybercriminal could easily register under the name of a trusted developer and create a program that spreads malicious code. For these reasons, it is critical that consumers stay informed on potentially vulnerable entry points left open by device manufacturers so they can take action to better protect their smart home technology and their personal privacy.  

Grocery List: Eggs, Milk, Security Risks?  

Today, it is not so weird to talk to your refrigerator (well, maybe a little). Smart appliances are quickly making their way into consumers’ kitchens. You can control your blender or Instant Pot from your phone and use voice activation with various appliances, further blurring the lines between the physical and the digital. And while smart kitchen appliances empower you to do things like controlling your air fryer from an app and use voice activation to brew your coffee in the morning, living like a Jetson does come with potential security risks. In 2019, McAfee researchers discovered a vulnerability within a Mr. Coffee brand coffee maker that could allow a hacker to access the user’s home network. To prevent criminals from brewing up trouble in your home, ensure that you take measures to secure each of your devices and keep criminals from spying on your network.  

Protect Yourself From “Bed Bugs” 

For many people, the bedroom is more than just the place where they sleep at night — it is a relaxing sanctuary where they can unwind. It is no wonder that many people have adopted various gadgets to turn their sanctuaries into high-tech hubs for relaxation. Take a smart bed, for example. These mattresses incorporate biometric sensors to help you snooze better, and they connect to a smartphone app that tracks your sleep trends and health metrics. While this technology may provide insight on how you can sleep better, it is important to realize that these devices are collecting data and sending it back to the manufacturer. Often, consumers do not stop to research what specific data is being collected and how it is being used, placing a lot of trust in the device manufacturer to safeguard their private information. But what happens if the company suffers a data breach or ransomware attack? There is a chance that your data might fall into the hands of a hacker. To better protect your online security, understand that enjoying the convenience of connected IoT requires an assessment of where your information is being stored.  

Secure Your Smart Home with These Tips  

There is no denying that IoT devices have upped the convenience of tech users’ lives everywhere. But with these technological rewards comes added risk — cybersecurity risk, that is. The more connected devices you have in your home, the more opportunities criminals have to infiltrate your network and reach other data-rich devices. This can potentially put your private and financial information at risk, not to mention your privacy.  

As our reliance on IoT and smart home technology grows, so will the need for users to step up their cybersecurity practices. Follow these tips to help protect your personal data and privacy while still enjoying all that your smart home gadgets have to offer:  

1. Secure your Wi-Fi network 

Out of the box, most Wi-Fi routers are either not secured or use a default password such as “admin,” making it easy for hackers to poke around and access devices that are connected to your router. To prevent cybercriminals from snooping on your network and the gadgets that are attached to it, secure your Wi-Fi network with a strong password.  

2. Ensure all account and device passwords are strong and unique 

A password or passphrase that is long, complex, and unique will discourage attempts to break into your accounts. Try creating a string that is at least 12 characters long, contains a combination of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, symbols, and numbers, and that is unique to each account.  

3. Do your research 

Do your research before investing in a smart device. Ask yourself if the gadget is from a reputable manufacturer. Has the company had previous data breaches, or do they have an excellent reputation for providing secure products? Also, take note of the information your IoT device collects, how vendors use this information and what they release to other users or third parties.  

Above all, understand what control you have over your privacy and information usage. It is a good sign if an IoT device allows you to opt-out of having your information collected or lets you access and delete the data it does collect.   

4. Enable multi-factor authentication 

In addition to the password/username combo, multi-factor authentication requires that users confirm a collection of things to verify their identity — usually something they have, and a factor unique to their physical being — such as a retina or fingerprint scan. This can prevent a cybercriminal from using credential-stuffing tactics (where they will use email and password combinations to hack into online profiles) to access your network or account if your login details were ever exposed during a data breach.  

5. Regularly update your devices 

Stay on top of software updates from your device manufacturer. Available updates are not always advertised, so visit the manufacturer’s website regularly. Additionally, make sure to update mobile apps that pair with your IoT device. Adjust your settings to turn on automatic software updates, so you always have the latest security patches.   

6. Monitor and secure your network 

Your router is the central hub that connects all the devices in your home, so make sure that it’s secure. After you change the default password and name of your router, ensure that your network name does not give away your address, so hackers can’t locate it. Then check that your router is using an encryption method, like WPA2, which will keep your communications secure.  

Additionally, consider setting up a “guest network” for your IoT devices. This is a second network on your router that allows you to keep your computers and smartphones separate from IoT devices. So, if a device is compromised, a hacker still cannot get all the valuable information that is saved on your computers. Check your router’s manual for instructions on how to set up a guest network.  

7. Install comprehensive security software.  

 You do not need to go it alone — employ the help of a comprehensive security system like McAfee Total Protection, which includes a robust password management system that creates and saves strong passwords across all your accounts in one centralized location. It also includes home network security to protect your firewall and block hackers from accessing your home network.  

Secure Your Smart Home for Peace of Mind  

Recognize that every Wi-Fi connection, every Bluetooth connection, and every connection you make using a wireless connection is subject to hacking. This will help you better understand the risks associated with your smart home devices, and therefore will help you be more equipped to combat them. Remember: a secure home is the smartest home you can have! 

Stay Updated  

To stay updated on all things McAfee and on top of the latest consumer and mobile security threats, follow @McAfee_Home on Twitter, subscribe to our newsletter, listen to our podcast Hackable?, and ‘Like’ us on Facebook.   

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