By Rachel Cericola
Ms. Cericola is a Staff Writer at Wirecutter, the product review site owned by The New York Times Company.
March 27, 2019
By connecting smart devices like lights, cameras, door locks and thermostats to the Internet, you may be making them — and you — visible to digital thieves or hackers.
“Every device connected to the Internet is a target,” said Theresa Payton, a former White House chief information officer and the founder and chief executive of Fortalice Solutions. A few recent news stories also illustrate the power these devices have.
One family’s living room Wi-Fi camera was infiltrated, allowing someone to not only control the camera and spy on them, but to broadcast sound — including a false report of a nuclear missile attack. We’ve also seen domestic abusers tap into smart home technology to intimidate and stalk former partners.
Thermostats, Locks and Lights: Digital Tools of Domestic AbuseJune 23, 2018
According to statistics website Statista, there will be about 42 million smart homes by the end of 2019, but little more than anecdotal evidence of security compromises. So while stories about hacks and privacy breaches are indeed scary, so far they’re also rare. The vast majority of smart home users aren’t getting hacked.
Still, as with any internet-connected device, taking precautions is essential. At Wirecutter, the New York Times company that reviews products, we’ve consulted with a range of experts who offered some tips that will go a long way toward protecting you and your home — and don’t require a lot of time, money or technical know-how. We’ve also done extensive testing of smart home devices and we consider a product’s security measures as part of our evaluation process.
Protect your network
One of the things that makes smart home devices “smart” is their ability to connect to the internet over your home’s Wi-Fi network. That’s why it’s essential that you properly secure it. If you don’t protect your Wi-Fi network with a password, or you only use the default password that came with your modem or router, all of your devices are exposed — the digital equivalent of leaving your front door wide open with a neon welcome sign overhead.
“People need to realize there’s actually catalogs of all those default passwords on the internet,” Ms. Payton said. Lock your network down with a password, one that is unique and not shared with any other accounts you have. Ms. Payton also suggests completely hiding your home network from view, an option in your router’s settings menu. “So when somebody drives by, they think you don’t have internet. They can’t see it,” she said.
You can add another layer of protection by isolating your smart home devices from your computers and smartphones using a guest network, a common option in many popular routers.”