Internet of Things: What You Need to Know
August 22, 2022
By Victor Aranda and Michael Francis
Digital assistants and their corresponding devices have become common place in most homes. Alexa, Google, Siri; we all know their names and many of is call on them frequently to make our lives easier. They integrate with our thermostats, coffee makers, and home lighting, among other things. But with all the convenience they provide, they are also perfect targets for security breaches.
Imagine: You are in your living room watching your favorite series on Netflix, when suddenly the lights dim on their own. Your thermostat raises the temperature in the room and your coffee maker brews an extra cup without consent. No, your house is not haunted; your smart home has just been hacked!
With the rise of the “Internet of Things” (IoT) comes the proliferation of bad actors attempting to breach your devices. The average person has no idea that these devices need to be protected or where to begin with securing them. These smart devices are also a one-stop shop for hackers due to their integration with so many accounts and personal info.
One of the most recent incidents involved Amazon and their Ring Video Doorbell security system. In 2019, the system was hacked, and victims were harassed and threatened within their homes. The hackers were able to get access to the accounts associated with the Ring devices and used the surveillance and intercom features of the doorbell to terrorize their targets.
Another 2019 incident occurred with a “Google Nest” device.  The device, which is used to control various functions in a home such as heating and cooling, was compromised. The victims recall having the temperature on their thermostat set to 90 degrees when they arrived home from work. They also had their smart camera used by the hacker to play explicit music and heard his/her voice through the system.
These attacks are not new and have been occurring since the inception of smart devices. However, there was an exponential spike in hacks during the start of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. As we all shifted to working from home and purchased devices to accommodate our new normal, hackers took this opportunity to increase their efforts as well. Fortinet, a company that sells cybersecurity products and solutions, shows statistics from risk-based security research that malware attacks and fraud attempts rose significantly during this period and resulted in 36 billion records being exposed.
The frequency of these attacks will continue to increase, and bad actors will leverage all methods to extort their victims. It is imperative that secure technology in our homes. Hackers are betting on the fact that the average person will not take the necessary precautions to keep them out of their networks -- we need to make this a losing bet for them.
When setting up our smart devices, we can no longer afford to overlook the security aspect if we want to keep our data and devices safe. There are multiple ways to protect ourselves from unwanted intruders and enjoy the benefits of our smart homes. Let us look at some of the preventative measures which can be taken to keep hackers out of our home networks.
The easiest step to take” Securing our Wi-Fi networks. Most smart devices need connectivity to our wireless networks, so it makes sense to start protection at the source. Never leave a default administrative password on a router. Hackers understand that most people will not take the extra time to update these passwords, making it an easy entry point for compromise. For added security, install a firewall device along with a router to block unauthorized traffic.
In addition to protecting the physical devices, protect the accounts tied to each device. Most IoT devices require an email address or vendor account for authentication or management purposes. Use complex passwords and implement multi-factor authentication (MFA). MFA is especially helpful since it provides an additional layer to the authentication process.
Although the prospect of a hack is unsettling, it is a reality which we should prepare for in advance. Acting with these simple security safeguards can save headaches in the long run. We must remember that the convenience offered by these devices does not come without cost.