Pagoda Blog

Cybersecurity Risks of Your Smart Home Devices

September 2, 2021

Smart home devices can make us more energy efficient, help us reach our health goals, automate daily tasks, and simply make our lives a little more convenient. They can also pose a serious cybersecurity risk if you’re not careful. Understanding these risks and how to mitigate them can allow you to safely enjoy a smart home and all the perks that come with it. 


What are smart home devices and how do they work? 

Smart home devices connect to the internet and can be remotely controlled by the usage of small computers built within the device. All smart devices within your home connect to a central hub, such as your internet router or smartphone. As you use the devices, they can collect data based on your activity. For a smart coffee maker, this data might be the times you make coffee throughout the day and how much. For a smart thermostat, it might be collecting and recording the temperatures you prefer at what times and during what time of year. Smart speakers, baby monitors, or security systems can store information overheard in conversations or keep track of when you’re away from home. 


Smart home devices that make your home safer

It’s important to note that there are many smart home devices specifically designed to make your home safer. These include smart security systems with automated lights, smart locks, smart security cameras, and video doorbells. With the ability to remotely monitor your home when away on vacation and automatically turn lights off and on, smart home security systems can be a very effective way to keep your house (or business) safe. 


What are the risks? 

Each smart home device you own is a potential entry point to your network. This means that if all your devices, including your laptop and smartphone, are connected to the same network, a hacker could gain access to all sorts of personal information (email, social media accounts, bank accounts) through one vulnerable device. 


Often, smart devices are connected through your smartphone for convenience and remote access. If an unauthorized party gained access to your phone, they could also gain access to those connected smart devices. Once a hacker gains access to a smart device, it’s possible they can connect to hundreds or even thousands of other devices, infecting them with malware or launching a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, disrupting internet connections for thousands of people. 


The exercise bike company Peloton was recently called out for major privacy concerns uncovered by the security company McAfee. McAfee revealed that hackers can gain access to the bike’s microphone, camera, and screen. This allows them to both monitor a user’s activity and to add fraudulent apps disguised as reputable applications like Spotify and Netflix that then request a user’s login credentials. If a user complies, these credentials can then be used for malicious activities like identity theft. Through the Peloton bike, McAfee noted that cybercriminals could find out personal information like age, gender, location, and workout stats. Hackers could also “interfere with the equipment at any point in the supply chain from construction to delivery.” 


This kind of vulnerability in such a popular smart home device (As of May, 2021 Peloton had 2 million users) is especially concerning. Fortunately, there are ways to improve your smart home security.   


How can you improve smart home security? 

Smart homes are the way of the future so it’s important to learn how to improve smart home device security. There are several critical steps you should take to mitigate the risk and take advantage of all the amazing benefits. 


1. Isolate your smart home network from your main network 

Do this by setting up a guest network for your smart home devices to connect to. This will keep hackers from being able to gain access to other personal information and accounts such as your bank account and email address.


2. Keep your computer and all device software up to date 

Security patches work to protect you from software vulnerabilities before cybercriminals use them to gain access to your device(s) or those of your entire company network. Keeping your operating systems up to date on all your devices and running the latest security patches, can prevent cybercriminals from hacking into the software of your smart home devices. 


3. Secure your smartphone 

If any of your devices connect to your smartphone, make sure you enable the password-protected screen lock. As noted above, it’s also important to always download the latest updates, preventing a hacker from exploiting any system vulnerabilities. 


4. Secure your internet router 

Your internet router is one of the most important devices in your home and requires periodic updates to maintain optimal security. Like your smart home devices, your router is an entry point for hackers to gain access to your online data. It’s important to establish a WPA/WPA3 wireless password setup as well as taking several other basic security steps


5. Always use a secure internet connection 

Your personal or office Wi-Fi connection should be password protected and protected by a firewall. Utilizing a Virtual Private Network (VPN) masks your online activity and your IP address, making your location and activity virtually untraceable. 


Related post: How to Secure Your Internet Connection: A Network Security Checklist


6. Secure each smart home device 

You should run through a security checklist on each of your smart home devices. Have you changed the default password? Set your own strong, unique password and then utilize a password management service to automatically update it every few months. For voice activated devices, change the “alert word” to a phrase only you and your family know. 


7. Do your research 

Research a device’s security and privacy policy before you buy and only buy from reputable suppliers. What personal data does the company collect and how do they use it? Do they provide regular software updates for their product? Also check customer reviews for any security red flags. 


8. Turn off universal plug & play 

This feature allows smart home devices to automatically connect to other smart devices around it. This feature is vulnerable to an outside attack which would allow a hacker to gain access and control of multiple devices so it’s wise to disable it from the start. 


Smart home devices have a lot to offer but it’s important to use them with eyes wide open to the potential security threats. From thermostats, speakers, and robot vacuums to exercise bikes, air purifiers, and smart dog bowls, your entire home could be connected to the internet for convenient automation and remote access. Just be wary of what devices you connect and make sure you understand what information you’re allowing them to have access to. With the above security tips, you should be able to enjoy the benefits of a smart home while mitigating the risk. 


Feature photo by Sebastian Scholz (Nuki) on Unsplash


Related posts: 


How to Create a BYOD Policy for a Hybrid Workplace

5 Cybersecurity Threats to Your Business and How to Prevent Them

What We Can Learn from the Kaseya Breach 

How Hackers Used the Internet of Things (IoT) to Launch the World’s Largest Cyberattack 



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