How safe are smart homes?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is changing the way we live by connecting the devices we use. It’s simple enough to give remote control to a single device; the first TV remote was developed in the 1950s. But now, any device, from your hifi and TV to your heating, door locks and lighting, can be connected to a single controller through the internet, giving you total control of your home.

The connected home can make your life easier and more enjoyable. However, it also comes with a downside. By connecting your home systems to the internet, you’re opening it up to a number of security risks. We’re going to show you how that happens, and we’ll also give you the best home security tips to ensure your connected home is also a secure home.

How does a smart home work?

Smart homes use devices which can connect to the internet and contain small computers enabling them to be remotely controlled. These devices might be as small as a coffee maker or as large as your entire heating system.

What makes them different from your traditional TV remote is that they use internet protocol to link up, and they’re all connected through a hub. That might be your home network router, or your smartphone.

Unlike the TV remote, these devices can collect and store information on your usage, habits, and preferences — either on the device or on the network. All that data makes your smart home a potential privacy risk, and every device you add to the network adds a new privacy concern.

Let’s take a more detailed look at the types of security threats that you need to consider when you have a smart home network.

Smart home security risks and threats

The connected home presents several types of security threats.

First, individual devices may not be secure. Some IoT home devices are rushed to market, and their security may not have been adequately addressed. In some cases, user manuals don’t address privacy concerns or give you enough information to be sure the device is secure. For instance, baby monitors and security cameras have been hacked, giving criminals the ability to see inside a house.

In fact, many experts believe that with IoT devices, you shouldn’t be thinking about what happens ‘if’ they’re hacked, but ‘when’ because many are easy to hack and offer little protection.

Secondly, your home network may not be secure, and any data held in that network could be accessible to an intruder. A criminal could track your usage patterns for various devices to see when you’re away from home, for instance.

If your home network is controlled from your main internet account, it’s not just data from your IoT devices that could be at risk. Any vulnerability could compromise your private information, including emails, your social media accounts and even your bank accounts. 

Many users control their connected home through a smartphone, which makes it a very valuable database for anyone wanting to hack into your life. This creates a high risk if your phone is hacked, stolen or if someone manages to eavesdrop on your connection. Ensure your home network security isn’t compromised by a single vulnerable IoT device.

If you want to benefit from the advantages of a smart home, you need to make sure that you address potential security issues first.

Smart home security tips

The first step in addressing home security is to isolate your smart home network from your other networks. This is relatively easy to do by setting up guest networks for your IoT home devices. For example, your fridge could still be hacked to make it part of a botnet that sends spam or mines cryptocurrencies. However, since it occupies its own network, it won’t be able to access your emails or bank account.

Using guest networks can help enhance your home network security in other ways, too.

Secondly, ensure that the access, control and delivery devices on your network are secure. That might include smart speakers, your internet router, your computer and your smartphone. Your smartphone, if hacked or stolen, could compromise your entire home security system, so make securing it your top priority by purchasing Android security or security for iOS devices.

Even if you have followed all these home security tips, you’re still running a risk if you log on to public Wi-Fi with your laptop or phone. If you don’t need authentication to get into a network, neither do hackers. If you regularly use public Wi-Fi, learn how to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) like Kaspersky’s VPN Secure Connection to protect your privacy and your smart home.

Once you’ve secured your networks to ensure that none of your IoT devices can access your personal data or control the network, your next step is to secure the individual devices.

Remember that every added device is an added opportunity for unwelcome visitors to get into your network. It’s up to you to decide for each gadget whether the increased convenience or functionality that it offers you is worth the increase in risk.

The security advantages of a smart home

Although the smart home has some security challenges, it can also create opportunities to make your house more secure. While most devices aim to make your life easier, some can also provide smart home security and protection.

For instance, having a remotely controlled locking system can ensure you never need to copy keys or leave a spare key under the doormat. This can help you manage access not just for family members, but also for trusted services, such as domestic cleaners or house sitters. Checking whether doors and windows are locked becomes easier when physical inspection is no longer required, and you can simply ask your control device.

When you’re not at home, security can be enhanced by being able to turn lights and hifi on and off remotely. This can give outsiders the impression that you are home, even when you’re away for a weekend or working late. Remote access to security cameras can enable you to spot potential issues, such as packages left in plain sight on your doorstep or gates that have been left open.

However, you’ll only get these advantages if you have already secured your smart home network and made sure it can’t be hacked.

The future of IoT smart homes

New products are being created all the time to bring the power of the internet to home gadgets and systems. By the end of 2021, 25 billion IoT smart devices could be in use, including smart light bulbs, air quality monitors, doorbells, washing machines, and fridges. Your IoT home will have the potential to deliver incredible control, but it’s up to you to make sure it delivers smart home security too.

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