Whether you and Alexa are already on a first-name basis, or you’re about to pull the trigger on investing in a Nest, chances are you’re a little nervous about the potential security risks of these so-called “smart” gadgets. After all, news stories about hacked security cameras are a dime a dozen, and compromised connected devices have even taken down big tech dogs like Twitter, Spotify, and PayPal. Thankfully, there’s no need to avoid the Internet of Things (IoT) to keep your personal information secure. It only takes about 20 minutes to prevent most of your fears from becoming reality.
Half of these tips involve your Wi-Fi router because it’s the most important step in securing your home. Nick Weaver, CEO of Eero, a router company, says if you don’t, “It’s like leaving your front door unlocked.”
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Put a password on it
Log into your router and password protect that box. Brian Knopf, the senior director of security research and IoT architect at Neustar, says he likes to string together three words from the dictionary and then insert a random symbol or number in the middle to make a good password. The Center for Copyright Information is a great resource to find instructions for logging into your specific router.
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Buy a password manager
Since reusing passwords is the digital equivalent of handing out copies of your house keys to everyone, pick a new password every time you are asked for one. Invest in password management software such as 1Password or LastPass to make it easier, because as you can imagine, spending time doing this on every site or for every service is going to strain your synapses.
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Check your router settings
While you are logged into the router, make sure the device is using WPA2 security instead of WEP security. Also make sure port forwarding is turned off, and if you can, shut down UPnP, which would stop attacks such as the Mirai botnet from taking over your router or other connected devices and using them to attack other sites.
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Fix your network name
Most routers come with a default network name or SSID like admin or something related to the name of the router maker, such as NETGEAR342X or ATT 9SLK56B. Don’t keep that. Choose a unique network name that doesn’t have your address or personally identifiable information in it. Make sure and check out newer routers created by startups such as Eero, Luma, or even Google.
Another option is Linksys routers, which now auto generate a random SSID for users. Linksys also forces users to change their router’s default password when they install it, so if you’re looking for a new router, check out Linksys.
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Treat your network like a vault
Provide a guest network for your children’s friends and anyone else who comes into your home. Older routers make this pretty difficult, so if you’re really serious about diving into a smart home, buy a newer router that offers this capability.
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Research your purchase
Google the product for security vulnerabilities. If they exist (and they will), make sure the company has issued a patch.
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Look for bug bounties
Companies such as Google, Apple, and many connected home product makers use bug bounties to let hackers know if they find an issue they should tell the company instead of release the vulnerability into the wild. Knopf says it speaks to how serious the company is about security.
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Spend on quality
Buy name-brand connected devices that have a reputation to uphold. Those cheap knockoffs on Amazon are cheap for a reason.
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Protect your new toys
The first step is again, a password. Those camera hacks on the nightly news are often the result of a homeowner leaving the default password on the camera. Let your password manager choose a good password and lock that gadget down.
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Keep the software on your connected devices up to date
Threats are always evolving, so when an update comes along, download it and apply it to your device.
It may sound like a lot of work, but most of this can be done in less time than it takes to stream Master of None on Netflix. And once it’s done, the upkeep is minimal, and you never have to worry about a hacker taking over your device or someone peering in through your security cameras.