In a recent survey by Experian, 71% of Americans said they are concerned their personal information will be stolen or exposed when using a smart device. But use of connected devices is expected to surge 45% to 12.9 billion by 2020, according to Gartner.
That's a huge number of connected, wireless sensing, tracking and control devices, raising the question: What can you do to keep your sensitive information secure?
What Exactly Is IoT?
IoT (or Internet of Things) is a network of devices that can transfer data wirelessly—these devices range from agricultural sensors to health care devices like pacemakers, to day-to-day things like cars, thermostats, doorbells, and refrigerators. Benefits include accessibility, convenience, additional peace of mind, and even added security; for instance, you can view security cameras from an app on your smartphone and see if there's someone creeping around your house while you're at work.
But these added features create more opportunities for breaches and can be ripe for hackers to get access to things inside your home and your critical personal information.
What's the Risk?
Almost half the people surveyed (48%) told us they own at least one smart home device or smart car. There are two ways the people you don't want to have access to your information can get in:
Cloud-side hacks: This is someone getting into your accounts via the cloud or Internet. How can you help prevent this from happening? Maintain strong passwords and keep your account information to yourself.
Device-side hacks: This is when someone actually gets access to the devices in your home or on your network. How can you help stop this? There's no surefire way, but below are a few things you can do to help protect yourself.
How to Help Keep Your Smart Home Devices Secure
- Start with basic security at home: Hackers are constantly trying to find new ways to get into various networks and if they spend enough time on it, they may get in. Last year, a journalist for The Atlantic set up a fake account designed to look like a smart toaster to see if hackers would try to breach his network; the toaster got hacked in less than an hour. But the reality is your router can kill incoming attempts most the time, which is why it's a good idea to check out products before you buy them by reading details about what IP security is included in the hardware of the product itself. A less secure device opens you and your home network to vulnerabilities.
- Add another network: One way the tech-savvy keep their homes secured with smart devices is to use a separate network. Most internet routers you buy today offer the ability to have two or three networks in your home. Putting the smart devices on a different network from things like your home computer (which holds personal information) can help prevent identity theft, even if someone does hack your smart devices. You don't have to be technically savvy to take these steps, but you can always hire someone trusted to help you set things up.
- Keep devices updated: Stay up to date on any software updates or news related to the products you own and use. Falling behind on software updates not only means you may experience bugs or glitches, but it can put you at risk from a security standpoint as software developers often use update to close security gaps in the code. This is a good rule of thumb with other software, like virus protection on your computer—always make sure you're running the latest version.
- Don't let just anyone in: Remember that rule your mom taught you as a kid about not talking to strangers? Here, it's more like ‘keep strangers away from your smart devices.' Basically, you just want to be aware of who has physical access to your devices. It may sound like something out of the next Bourne movie, but the reality is if someone has access to a device, they could alter it to do something or collect information. If you're worried about keeping things secure, limiting access to your devices is a good idea.
- Use well-known brands: Companies like Nest, Ring, and Ecobee not only have lots of money invested in the development of secure connected devices, but they have brands and companies to maintain. This is a case where you probably don't want to skimp: spending more to avoid the generic brand you've never heard of helps reduce the risk of someone getting access to your home camera or your personal information falling in the wrong hands. While there are hackers out there who can get into various things, the likelihood that a large, established company quickly addresses any potential security issues is good because their name and bottom line are at stake.
Smart home devices can be used around your house securely, you just have to stay updated—both with your software and your know-how.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer or other company, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. All information, including rates and fees, are accurate as of the date of publication.
This article was originally published on October 3, 2017, and has been updated.