December 9, 2016
The Internet of Things has become a huge seller in the tech world. There are apps for everything from watching your dog while you're at the office to WiFi-connected garage door openers. Everything from hi-tech baby monitors to multi-colored lights are available to turn your house into a veritable smart home. But do the benefits outweigh the risks?
Unfortunately, if you invest in them without doing research or taking appropriate precautions, you could be inviting strangers into your home. Even your webcam is vulnerable. In fact, Mark Zuckerberg covers his webcam with tape to ensure that hackers cannot peer into his home and personal life. A webcam is hardly cutting edge technology, yet a person who probably has access to the most advanced online security protections still feels the need to keep himself safe with something that can be found in the junk drawer of your home.
A Rash of Attacks on IoT Devices
A few weeks ago, you may have noticed that many of your favorite websites were either inaccessible for several hours, or that they were suffering from intermittent outages. This was due to a denial of service attack against the DNS provider hosting major websites including PayPal and Reddit.
The attack wasn’t the work of a single hacker chiseling their way into the system. Instead, it was believed to be a coordinated effort using IoT devices that had been easily hacked due to their inherent vulnerabilities.
It’s a scary enough thought to consider the fact that hackers have accessed people’s smart devices, baby monitors, gaming consoles, and even their cars. The fact that we now know that these vulnerabilities can be exploited to take down entire websites is more than alarming. This isn’t the first time that this has happened.
The Human Factor
It is easy to blame manufacturers of smart home technology for all of this. Certainly they deserve some of the blame. They are responsible for creating technology without considering the impact that security breaches could potentially have. These attacks are evidence of that. On the other hand, the users are to blame as well.
For example, if the computer that the webcam is attached to hasn’t been properly updated with security patches, because its owner was too busy to reboot, it becomes vulnerable. Likewise, if you install a smart appliance and leave the default password, all a hacker needs to do is find out the manufacturer’s default password for that refrigerator or furnace.
Fortunately, there are solutions to this. A high quality, fully integrated smart home system is key. This, combined with homeowners willing to take extra precautions, should go far in keeping connected homes safe, and prevent exploitation from hackers.
Some Common Sense Solutions
People who do decide to adopt smart home technologies can keep themselves safe by adhering to a few rules of common sense, including:
- Using hard to crack passwords and changing them frequently
- Completing device registry information immediately so that the manufacturer can keep devices updated with the latest patches
- Installing IoT monitoring software
- Refusing to jailbreak or modify game consoles or other connected devices
- Reporting suspicious behavior from devices
- Turning off devices or disconnecting them from the net when they are not in use
- Researching before purchasing I0T devices
- Exercising caution when buying used or aftermarket devices
Of course, the best way to stay safe may be to only purchase IoT products that are necessary. After all, just because something can be connected to the internet, doesn’t mean it should be.
It's too soon to give smart home technology a full stamp of approval. However, it's okay to be cautiously optimistic. Smart home adoption can take as long as appropriate precautions are implemented by manufacturers.
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