Ten years ago the first iPhone hit the market and our lives changed. Sure, there were BlackBerry and Treo phones before then that hinted at the capabilities of internet-capable phones but it was the iPhone that opened us to all the possibilities. The most incredible of those possibilities? The Internet of Things: the network of devices that can communicate with each other. The IoT includes cars, appliances and even our homes. Between iOS and Android, we can control nearly every aspect of our life. But that opens us up. Instead of just worrying about email hacks, we now have to worry about devices being hacked and controlled by outsiders. Luckily, there are ways to stay safe that are easy to implement so you can still enjoy the ease of having an app for that … and for everything!
Why You Must Protect Your IoT Devices
When the term “Internet of Things” (IoT) was coined in 1999 we thought it was the stuff of sci-fi movies. But these days we use our phones and other devices for everything from setting the lights in our home to turn on if we’re out past dark to shutting off the flattening iron left on the edge of the bathroom sink. That opens us up to risk. After all, think of the data your use of these apps mines.
As an example, Alarm.com allows you to protect your home no matter where you are. Its GPS also tracks you. This is great - it is not only protecting your home but the app tracks your location so that your home has the lighting level and temperature you like when you arrive. But that means someone who gains access to your app can see the comings and goings of your family, making it easy to plan a burglary. These apps and the entire IoT makes our lives more efficient and easier, but they require safeguards to keep our families and property safe.
How To Protect Your Devices
There are several ways to keep yourself safe, make sure to implement these practices into your life every time you want to add a connected device.
Do Your Research
Some devices are more vulnerable than others. Some track data different ways. Before adding an IoT device, take time to do your research.
- Read online reviews and news articles about devices.
- Familiarize yourself with the terms and conditions. Yes, they are horrible to read but in this case, it’s vital. What information can and do they access? Do they store it on site? Be mindful of insufficient transparency. Your lighting app doesn’t need to access your entire phone.
- Speak with experts. Most companies have an 800 number. Call and speak with a representative about how to keep devices safe.
Be Password Smart
Hackers are far more sophisticated, so it’s time to up your password game.
- Stop using easy to guess passwords. Your kid’s name is off limits. Same for your dog. Also eliminate birthdays, zip codes, and area codes. Check this article for the most common passwords and make sure yours don’t match.
- Consecutive numbers are a no no. It’s 2017 and yet the most common passwords are still things like 1234567 - one of the first things a hacker will guess.
- Substitutions are not as smart as you think. Did you replace characters in your dog’s name and your zip code to come up with ^^ugsY@52o! - good try but not good enough. Swapping out for similar looking symbols isn’t as safe as you think.
- Use a password generator. Sites like LastPass will generate long form passwords for you. They are completely random and use letters, numbers and symbols.
- Store safe. That little slip of paper you sneakily attached to the underside of your desktop? It’s the first thing people reach around for when looking for passwords. Make sure that you store passwords safely and that you lock up your devices that access the apps. And make sure those passwords are smart! If you use a newer iPhone, use the fingerprint access.
- Passwords are private. Don’t share passwords with house or pet sitters, friends or anyone you wouldn’t want having full access to your home and information. The iPad that controls your IoT devices should be off limits to anyone who doesn’t live in your home.
- Change quarterly. Set an appointment in your calendar to update passwords every three months.
- Change the default immediately. Most devices come with an initial password. Change this immediately since it is the first thing people guess when trying to access your device.
Weigh The Need of Each Connected Device
Being connected is great but every connected device is another opportunity for hackers to gain access to your private information. Be sure to consider each IoT device you add. Here are some questions to consider:
- Will I use this capability? A perfect example is your garage door. Sure, an app that opens and closes it is great. But if your opener hasn’t had batteries in six years and you never park in the garage you can probably pass on this one.
- Are my other family members savvy? Teenagers are notorious for many behaviors. While sleeping in or being contrarian won’t harm your privacy, remember that teens are easily persuaded by friends. Be mindful of how much access they have and whether it’s a greater risk. Discuss with your partner whether your children should have access to each device independently of the other.
Don’t Just Set It And Forget It
Connecting devices means staying up to date. Make sure to install each update as this is where the company fixes bugs and increases functionality and security. If months go by without an update make sure you follow up with the company by doing your homework: are they still in business?
This also applies to your wifi connection: make sure it has a strong password that is regularly changed and that you use the strongest security and encryption protocols available.
Why You Shouldn’t Fear The IoT
Technology is a great thing and you should take advantage of all the connectivity and freedom it gives you. The fact that every device in your home can be connected to an app that allows you to check if you left something on that you shouldn’t have --- and turn it off from anywhere you have a signal --- is incredible. Just make sure that you fully understand the risks that come with each connected device and app and that you lock down every device, including your router and the smartphone or tablet that connects to the apps.