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Hackers can Hijack Your Home with these 10 Smart Devices

The Internet is full of stories of cybercriminals invading a home by hijacking its smart devices. You’re probably familiar with some of these devices, such as smart thermostats, smart speakers and Web cams. But have you thought about that fancy new refrigerator you just purchased, or your light bulbs?

Many of these hacks are often viewed as small pranks. However, according to a recent report by Business Insider, with a simple $14 laser pointer, hackers can hijack your home and disable smart locks and other sensitive electronics from as far as 360 feet! To help you navigate some common – and often forgotten – smart devices in your home, we’ve compiled 10 Internet of Things (IoT) devices that hackers can hijack.

10 Smart Devices in Your Home

  1. Wireless Laptops. This first item may seem obvious, but laptops can be accessed remotely, through the Internet, with phishing emails (where you click links or update credentials under false pretenses) or compromised USB, to name a few. In a short time, a hacker can access your bank’s login and password, social security number, credit card information and much more.
  2. Online Gaming Systems. The player in online gaming is the biggest security weakness in this scenario, not the gaming console. Don’t share private information with other players in a multi-player game that will allow malicious efforts to gain control of your account and other personal information, which may provide access to other systems.
  3. Webcams. Home surveillance systems, smartphone cameras and traditional webcams can all spy on you. Webcam spy software can be spread with spam emails and infected attachments, links to fake websites and other malware attacks. Many webcam lights, which typically notify you when they’re on, can be turned off while the webcam is recording. Want a quick fix? Cover your webcam or disable it. The camera can still hear you, but at least you can’t be watched. Also, make sure your software is up to date to ensure your firewall is enabled and only use your cameras over a secure connection. In other words, avoid public WiFi! And as always, think before you click and update software when prompted.
  4. Home Wireless Network. A wireless router allows multiple devices to connect to your Internet provider, or home network, quickly. With so many wireless devices connecting to this out-of-sight, out-of-mind device, it’s important to remember it’s also one of the most critical gateways into your home! In addition to a strong password, you can enhance its security by:
    • Changing the name of your Wi-Fi network
    • Relocate its location to the most central part of your home – essentially increasing its signal reach to the entire house and decreasing the signal strength from the road (where the signal can be intercepted by cybercriminals).
    • Change the default IP address (and then make sure to type in the new IP address into the Web browser bar). Learn how here.
    • Disable remote access.
    • Keep software up to date. Unfortunately, this is often a manual process since routers don’t tend to update automatically.
  5. Smart Light Bulbs. According to recent study by the University of Texas at San Antonio, many of these smart light bulbs are infrared-enabled, meaning hackers can send commands via the infrared invisible light emanating from the bulbs to either steal data or spoof other connected IoT devices on the home network. In other words, anything saved to your computer, such a photos, or your phone’s text messages, can be stolen. Learn more about this new security gap here.
  6. Smart TVs. Internet-enabled TVs are soft targets for hackers. Known for having security vulnerabilities, cybercriminals are often able to exploit these flaws in some TVs, from simply messing with your TV settings (such as changing your channels or volume) to using its built-in digital assistants to access your home’s digital thermostats, security cameras, online shopping accounts and other on-demand services.
  7. Coffee Makers. Does scheduling your morning brew from a smart phone app sound appealing? Hackers thinks so! Smart phones can connect to almost anything these days, including smart coffee makers. To work, however, the coffee maker must be connected to your home WiFi network. If a hacker can access your coffee maker, then they can infiltrate everything else in your home.
  8. Smart Phones. Considering how smart phones are now used to store sensitive data, photos, email and more. They can also be used for purchasing goods, banking and paying at cash registers, mobile phones are a valuable target for cyber attackers. Additionally, smart phones share many of the same vulnerabilities as your computer. Read this US-Cert report on threats to mobile phones and how to protect them.
  9. Smart Refrigerators. Does your smart fridge have a Web browsing capability or WiFi signal linked to your smart phone to update you on grocery contents? Then it too is vulnerable to hackers. A smart fridge may not have any obvious personals risks, but they are still connected to various Web services, banking systems and other institutions, including the manufacturer. Many smart refrigerators can also have generic admin email accounts associated to it, which allows repairmen to quickly access its software for updates or other repairs. If a cybercriminal is aware of theses weaknesses, they can access your personal data and other pertinent information.
  10. Portable Radios. Is it connected to Internet radio, and therefore your home’s WiFi network? Then it’s susceptible to cyber vulnerabilities.

Remember, “smart” doesn’t always mean “secure”. It’s up to each of us to take responsibility for our cybersecurity and ensure the privacy of our own smart homes. Hackers are not likely going to use their skill set to open the locks to your front door, but they may use these IoT devices to exploit your personal data or the system’s they’re connected to, such as banks or security companies.

Protect Your Smart Home’s Devices

There’s no way to guarantee your home will be 100 percent secure. However, you can take some simple steps to create a more secure environment.

To begin, research smart devices before your buy. Ask yourself, are there any known vulnerabilities that can expose your home network? If yes, can you secure the device? It’s also important to take inventory of the devices in your home and identify how they are connected to your WiFi system. Take note of each device’s ISP and password, if appropriate, and make sure each password is unique. Learn about effective passwords here.

Upon purchasing your smart device, take time to read the fine print and consider its default privacy and data sharing settings. Unless the device needs to provide a constant stream of data to the manufacturer or a third party, turn off this setting. Of course, if your devices are connected to your home’s WiFi router, make sure that router is also secure (see no. 4 in the list above).

Increased incidents of phishing scams, malware intrusions and other cybersecurity breaches will only increase as our home’s become more dependent on IoT devices. There’s no need to stay off the grid. However, if we all take precautions now to stay aware of cybersecurity concerns, we can stop hackers from hijacking our homes and create a safe space for everyone.

Visual representation of a devices in a home that can be connected to the internet.