The Internet of Things (IoT) is virtually synonymous with the idea of a smart home. The latter became possible as a series of technologies, from machine learning to commodity sensors, smart speakers, real-time analytics, and many other systems were integrated with Wi-Fi in order to be easily managed and coordinated.
Now, home automation means we can control and monitor our homes down to the level of light in each room and height of each window shade, all this without being there in the first place. However, with the possibility to exercise more control, the counter-premise of hijacking is also present, particularly when a device is able to remotely communicate with others and be given online commands.
What you risk when using IoT devices
A recent report showed that almost 9 out of 10 Americans are worried about the security of their smart homes. They’re not just paranoid either - security experts and companies estimate that up to 80% of all IoT devices are susceptible to a wide range of attacks, including the massive botnet incident Mirai. Here’s a list of the most common and immediate risks for smart homes:
- Man-in-the-middle attacks. An aggressor can either spoof or interrupt temperature information generated by an environmental monitoring device, such as Nest or Ecobee4, and then forward his own data to the cloud. This method can effectively leave you without heating during very cold temperatures or without air conditioning during a heat wave. As was proven by the global epidemic of VPNFilter, your router can easily become a hub for MitM attacks. Luckily, routers using premium VPN services that are also independently evaluated to be among the best, as is the case of the NordVPN, were not exposed.
- Device hijacking. This is one of the most common ways that attackers can assume control of your smart home. Many IoT gadgets have in-built flaws that can easily be exploited, such as hard-baked admin passwords from the software manufacturer. In this case scenario, the functionality of the infected device is used as a gateway to infect any other IoT products that may be connected to it, so detecting the intrusion is next to impossible. Security analysts are constantly flagging such crass omissions to manufacturers, but these are not a pre-requisite for launching a product. The hacker will be able to hijack your fridge or thermostat, but also change your keypad PIN number.
- Data and identity theft. Smart appliances and wearables generate a host of data that is virtually unprotected. This information can easily be harvested by cyber-attackers. Then, they can use it to successfully generate fraudulent transactions and steal your identity for even more false purchases.
- DDoS and PDoS (Distributed or Permanent Denial-of-Service). The goal for these types of attacks is to either temporarily or permanently disable device(s) that are connected to the web. Due to lack of security in IoT devices, it was estimated that the global volume of DDoS attacks rose by 19% over the past years and the bulk of this increase comes from smart homes that severely lack security features.
How to protect yourself and your smart technology
There are two major aspects you can improve in terms of the security of your smart home. The first concerns access to your IoT devices, as well as the way in which the latter connect to your home network. The second is related to your personal Wi-Fi network. If the former is a metaphorical back door, you can think of the latter as the digital front door to your house.
The problem is that the two doors are not necessarily separate. Access through one can easily facilitate admission through the other. Once both entries to your house are compromised, nothing is stopping a hacker from also infesting your smartphones, laptops or PCs to gather even more sensitive data. Below, you’ll find a list of solutions to help protect your home and IoT.
- Device-network authentication. In order to stave off intruders that might take advantage of lacklustre security features through spoofing, it is imperative that you install a mutual authentication protocol on your home network. This will ensure that the device connecting to the network is a legitimate one that you own, prior to the transmission of data of any kind.
- Encrypted communication. All communication between your smart home devices takes place through a Wi-Fi router. Encrypting the latter is second to nothing in terms of the security of both your home and anything that connects to the Internet using its network. To ensure that your router is safeguarded from cyber-attacks, it is important that you change its factory-given name, give it a unique username and password, and install a VPN on it to ensure that all of the data on your home network is encrypted.
- VPN services come with many value features, including military-grade security, the ability to circumvent geo-blocks, and much more. They are also incredibly affordable.
- Security monitoring. Lastly, if you’re the kind to double-check everything, then a security monitoring protocol that allows you to assess the overall state of the system, but also the traffic passing through your home network, will ensure that any breaches are exposed before they get out of hand.
It's not smart if it’s unprotected
Regardless of how many functionalities you add to your home by means of IoT devices, the improved control you can exert over your most comfortable and safe environment is worth nothing if the latter exposes you to intruders. As we’ve shown in this brief article, smart gadgets come with a host of security vulnerabilities that offer hackers a multitude of options in terms of hacking your personal networks and gaining access to your private data.
Cyber-security statistics have shown that the IoT sphere exponentially increased the volume of DDoS attacks. Since there is currently no legislation on security standards for such products, it is vital that you take matters into your own hands and safeguard your personal smart network. And it all starts with an encrypted router and a good VPN.