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How to secure your smart home

While having more smart devices connected to your home network and the internet makes life more convenient, it also increases the number of ways that you can get hacked. The threats can be big.

For example a hacked security camera, for example, provides a way into your home network, letting the criminals directly attack more devices in your home. There’s also the risk of a loss of privacy: would you want a hacker watching what you’re doing via a compromised security camera?

Any device that connects to the internet needs to be secured and managed to prevent hacking. Here are some steps that you can take to secure your smart home.

Change default passwords

Smart devices, also known as the Internet of Things (IoT) devices, are often full computers in their own right. Once a hacker has compromised a device, it can be put to nefarious use. The Mirai malware used default usernames and passwords to find and infect IoT devices, such as security cameras.

Once infected with the Mirai malware, the infected devices could be controlled by the hackers. The infected devices were then often used in Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, generating traffic to take down targetted websites. You clearly won’t want your home and broadband connection to take part in such attacks.

To combat this, make sure that none of your smart devices uses the default passwords that they shipped with. This is more of an issue with smaller brands, which don’t always implement more secure methods of access, such as random default passwords.

Changing passwords should also apply to your router and its wireless settings: don’t use the default network name and password that your device shipped with.

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Update firmware

Check your smart devices or their apps for firmware updates. It’s important to keep your devices running the latest version. Not only can new firmware add new features and fix bugs, but these updates often fix security flaws, too.

Turn on two-factor authentication for your accounts

The problem for a lot of smart devices is that they’re controlled via apps or a web interface, with access protected by a username and password. That means that hackers don’t have to touch your hardware, but can try and gain access to your accounts and, therefore, your devices.

Using long and secure passwords that are hard to guess is a good starting point – a long phrase that you can remember with some added numbers and punctuation are good. Where possible, turn on two-factor authentication, too.

With two-factor, as well as your password, you need to enter a secure one-time code to access your account. This can be sent via SMS, email or generated via an app. Two-factor authentication means that even if your password is stolen, hackers still don’t have all of the information that they need to hack your account.

Remove old devices from your network

If you’ve got old internet-connected devices that don’t need to be on your network, then remove them. For example, if you’ve got a Wi-Fi printer but you only print when connecting via USB, then turn the wireless settings of. Unplug other devices that you no longer use, and turn off network features on devices that don’t need it.

Think about upgrading old devices that are no longer supported, too. It’s a financial pain having to do so, but all products come to the end of their natural supported life.

Protect your network

If you’ve got a high-end router, such as an Orbi RBK852 mesh system, you’ll often find that there’s a security option that you can turn on – in this case, it’s Netgear Armor. These subscription services run security software on your router, protecting you against malicious attacks and detecting suspicious activity automatically. It’s worth thinking about subscribing to these services to deliver peace of mind.

Screenshots of Netgear Orbi RBK752's app settings screens

Use a guest wireless network

Most routers have the option for a guest wireless network. This separate network prevents devices that connect to it from seeing your main network. It’s worth enabling this and connecting your smart devices to this network. If they are compromised, your main network (your phones, computers and so on) can’t be touched.

Using the guest network may stop some features from working. For example, if you put your TV on the guest network, you may not be able to cast content to it from your phone.

It’s worth putting devices on a separate network that don’t need to communicate with other devices. So, smart heating, smart cameras, smart alarms and the like should be separate; computers, phones and entertainment devices should go on your main network. 

If you try this technique and find that you have problems with a device when it’s on your guest network, move it back to the main network.

Turn off UPnP

Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) is a technology that lets devices automatically configure a router. It’s very clever, but an infected device can use UPnP to open up a hole in your router’s firewall, allowing more devices to be attacked.

Turn off UPnP to avoid this. YOu can do this in your router’s settings. Where the UPnP option is will depend on your router, but most have this feature in the advanced section.

Turn off UPnP

Use proper security software

Make sure that your computers and phones are running full security software. This will protect your computers from attack; a compromised computer can be used remotely to gain access to other devices on your network. Using dedicated security software stops attacks whether your computer is on your home network or if you’re out an about.

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