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Smart Devices and Security Concerns

  • Posted: 08.21.2019
graphic representation of grouped smart home gadget icons in the shape of a light bulb
Image: Fotolia

Smart devices are popping up everywhere. It’s not just your phone and tablet, but many homes now contain multiple other smart and interconnected electronics.

Although not found in every household, many U.S. homes have one or two components, such as a smart security system complete with cameras, a smart thermostat, or a know-it-all “voice assistant” such as Amazon’s Alexa. Of course, there are homes with no smart devices but there are other homes decked out in every smart technology you could imagine.

According to Statista, a company specializing in market and consumer data, North Americans are forecast to spend 63 billion dollars in the smart home market in 2022.

Although it’s safety conscious to get a real-time glimpse of who’s ringing the doorbell and convenient to hear Google Assistant recite a recipe – smart devices come with their own set of security concerns. Canada’s CBC News hired hackers (ethically responsible ones, of course!) to hack a family’s smart home and they got in, literally. “All it took was a white van, a team of three hackers and a phishing email to remotely unlock the front door.”

This eye-opening scenario is not intended to scare you; rather to encourage you to give serious thought to smart devices before programming them into your home network. Security measures for smart devices are similar to the steps that protect us against seedy scammers and hackers in other areas of life. For example, be leery of emails or calls asking for personal information such as log-in info or passwords. And although everyone loves to use the same passwords like “abc123” for everything, doing so can make your smart devices vulnerable. (Note: it’s not a good idea to use “abc123.” Be creative and make passwords hard to crack.) And although it seems obvious, never use the factory-set password; change it immediately.

Many tech companies are considering (and others have already switched) to two-step authentication for the smart devices they sell. Although the extra step can be a pain, the two-step process is a good thing: it is a valuable step in keeping you and your family safe and your conversations private. Two-step authentication involves receiving and entering a code via phone, text or email before being allowed onto a secure site.

Without the code provided in the second security step, outsiders can’t access your device or account — even if they guessed your abc123 password.

For more in-depth technology advice, consult an IT professional.

Smart device technology tips
Although not an exhaustive list and not written by security experts, Safe Electricity recommends these basic tips to make your smart devices less hackable and more secure:

  • Never click a link in an email claiming to be from a security- or smart-home related company, even if it looks official. Scammers and hackers get sign-in information and passwords this way, which they can use to hack your smart technology.
  • Although tempting, don’t use all the same passwords for all of your devices.
  • Absolutely change factory-set passwords provided by the manufacturer.
  • Make your passwords complex and challenging.
  • If you do receive an email from your smart device manufacturer, see if the email address the company used is the same as the one they have used to contact you in the past. These emails should be general in nature and should never ask for personal or log-in information.
  • Never give out log-in or password or other personal information in an email, over the phone, or for any other reason unless you are the one contacting the company directly via a verified phone number or other trusted method of contact.
  • Regularly update the device’s software so that it is protected by the latest security.
  • Unless the hacker makes him/herself known, it can be hard to detect if a smart device has been hacked until the obvious happens.
  • If it has been hacked, your gadget might be slower than usual, unresponsive, or compulsively reboot.
  • If you are tech savvy, keep watch on the IP addresses that access the devices.

Disclaimer: Tips are designed to increase awareness. For expert and in-depth technology advice, contact an IT professional or manufacturer. For more information about electrical safety, visit SafeElectricity.org.