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Tips on securing your smart home

By Erin Hutchison
Content Marketing and Social Media Specialist

Smart home devices provide convenience, improved safety and an opportunity for cost savings, but they are also easy targets for cyber criminals.

Canadian homes are getting smarter. You can program your smart garage door to automatically close at a specific time or adjust your thermostat through an app on your phone while heading home. Your smart lock or deadbolt can detect a mobile device or fob in your pocket as you walk up to your house.

Smart home devices provide convenience, improved safety and an opportunity for cost savings on utilities by enabling homeowners to control their lighting, heating, security, appliances and entertainment devices via the internet. But smart devices are easy targets for cyber criminals. The more connected devices in the home, the greater the risk owners face. For example, if a criminal hacks a smart speaker, they can steal data from a computer or smartphone to commit identity theft if it is connected to the same network. Hackers may also gain access to your smart home cameras and audio equipment or use the GPS on your devices to track your location.

But don’t fear, if you take some simple steps, you can enjoy the benefits of a smart home while protecting yourself from risk.


Tips for smart home device safety

Consider what you need

Though it may be tempting to buy every smart home device available, consider purchasing only those that will truly benefit you. Think carefully before you buy a smart home device with a camera, such as a smart display virtual assistant. Most aren’t necessary, except if you are purchasing a security camera. If you do have a device with a camera, such as a smart display with a camera for video calls, buy a cover for the camera that can slide open when you need it.

For devices you already own, turn off features like Bluetooth, microphones and geolocation when you are not using them. You can disconnect a device from the internet if you only use it occasionally.

Ask smart questions

When purchasing a smart device, do some online research or ask the manufacturer questions to find out whether the device meets your privacy and security expectations. Questions may include “What data is being collected” and “With whom is the device sharing my data?”

Secure your router

Prevent hackers from accessing your smart home devices by installing protection on your home router. This stops threats before they get inside the home network. Be sure to change the default username and password on your router. This goes for your Wi-Fi network too.

Use a separate network

Another way to keep your network secure is by using your smart devices on a separate network. Some routers come with two networks built-in or you can buy an additional router. If you have your smart devices on a different network from your home computer, this can help you avoid data breaches or identity theft.

Add a VPN

You can get a VPN for your router, which changes your virtual location and supplies super-strong encryption for anything on your network. When sending information over a Wi-Fi network, a VPN uses encryption to scramble your data and keep it secure and unreadable along the way. And, because your data is exiting the VPN server, it appears to have the internet protocol (IP) address of that server, masking your IP address and hiding your online activity.

Use strong passwords

Change any default passwords that come with a smart home device. Use strong, unique, long passwords for each of your devices. Add another layer of security with multi-factor authentication (MFA), which means you need more than one form of verification to confirm your identity. Many devices come with MFA, or you can use an authenticator app, such as Google Authenticator or Authy, which create a single-use login code.

Be sure to apply these password rules to the online accounts associated with each device, as well as your smartphone. If you don’t have a strong password to protect your smartphone and it falls into the wrong hands, a hacker may have access to the apps that control your smart home devices.

Get malware protection and prioritize software updates

Some forms of malware will sneak through a secure Wi-Fi network, so malware protection is important. You can install CIRA Canadian Shield to help protect against this. Also be sure to stay up to date on any software updates for your smart home devices to be sure you get any security fixes.

About the author
Erin Hutchison

Erin brings to CIRA a background of marketing experience in higher education and the not-for-profit sector. In 2015, she participated in ISOC’s Youth@IGF Programme and traveled to Guadalajara, Mexico to attend the IGF. She has a Bachelor of International Business from Carleton University.