Let’s take a walk around a modern digital home and consider its cyber security weak spots.
For many homes these days, the first internet connected device can be encountered before you even walk in the door. Internet-connected motion sensors and porch lights can be controlled from a smartphone. Plus, many security camera systems can be connected to the internet – meaning that cyber security should be considered even from outside your home.
The rise of modern technology means we also have a number of entertainment options available at the tip of our fingers. Internet-connected smart TVs provide access to our favourite streaming services, but can potentially become a cyber security risk. Also, devices such as smartphones and tablets with cameras and microphones can provide a window to your home for hackers, while phishing messages designed to collect your personal details are waiting to detonate in your email or SMS inbox. Learn more about types of scams to look out for.
You’d be surprised how much internet technology has made its way into kitchens in recent years. It's possible now to connect your fridges with in-built cameras to apps and home assistant technology, allowing you to check their contents while you're out and about. Robot vacuums also have connectivity functions, allowing them to potentially map the floorplans of your home.
As we move to the dining room, we might spot a home office assistant. There are a few to choose from, including Google, Amazon, and Apple, but along with the convenience that these devices bring to the home is also the added security risk of having an internet gateway that listens to everything people say.
The study is normally home to typical internet-connected devices such as laptops and desktop computers. It might also host your internet router – which you should think of as the digital front door to your home. If a hacker manages to gain access to a home router, they can gain control of all of the internet-connected devices throughout the entire home.
We need to be mindful of the cyber activity going on in our garages, too. Two million Australian households now have solar panels, and therefore solar inverters – which are usually located in the garage and connected to the home Wi-Fi. Also, if your car has a dashcam, it might record audio as well as visual footage. This data is often pushed to the manufacturer’s cloud storage, which is then available to their employees (and anyone else who knows the password).
Believe it or not, internet connected technology has even found its way into the garden. Smart irrigation systems can be set up and controlled remotely using a smartphone, which therefore requires some form of connection. While you’re out there, you should also consider any surveillance you’ve got set up to keep tabs on your pets while you’re not home.
Be mindful that most internet-connected devices are potentially discoverable due to search engines specifically designed to discover them based on details such as location, software and configuration. This means that every device you connect to the internet could be discoverable from anywhere in the world.
Devices that connect to the internet are often secured by weak default passwords. These passwords can be easily deciphered by ‘brute-force’ attacks – where hackers try logging on to your device using thousands of common username and password combinations in a matter of minutes.
A lot of connected devices run on outdated firmware (core software that ties into the hardware). Often this firmware hasn’t been updated for years, and can therefore contain security vulnerabilities that hackers can use to gain access to the device.
All this talk of security vulnerabilities might sound scary, but don’t worry – there are a number of things you can do to ensure your house is as cyber safe as possible to prevent any hacker activity.
You should aim to know the digital layout of your home as well as you know the physical layout. This means knowing exactly which devices connect to the internet, what data they hold and how much audio and visual information they can collect from you.
Make sure that every device has a long and unique password – this means changing any default passwords. Also, when you move into a new home, you probably make sure the old owner doesn’t still have a key – but a lot of people don’t bother to change the login details on second-hand devices. Always change the password so the old owners can’t access the device.
They might make a handy addition to your home, but make sure you know what info your home assistant can collect, and where that info is sent.
You’ll need to do this in order to change your password. While you’re there, check the device’s security settings, and consider turning on multifactor authentication for an extra layer of protection if it’s an option.
The device’s user interface should also let you turn on automatic software and firmware updates. If you’re not sure, read the manual to find out how. It’s a good idea to set the device to automatically update as often as possible, so your security is constantly up-to-date.
Remember, your router is like your digital front door. This means you need to pay extra attention to make sure it’s as secure as possible. You might also want to pay extra for one that has better security and safety options.
Young people are now growing up in digital environments, and many school-aged kids have their own devices that connect to the internet (like smartphones, smartwatches, laptops and tablets). Unsupervised use of these devices can leave kids potentially vulnerable to online predators due to cyber security weak spots. Other examples to think about include toys and baby monitors that connect to the internet, so be vigilant about how you monitor this activity. You can also check out the Office of the eSafety Commissioner for more advice on how to keep your family’s online activities secure.
When you’re looking to buy devices that can connect to the internet, search for known issues first. How safe is the brand and model? Has the device had any issues in the past? How has the manufacturer dealt with any issues that were reported?
As always, it’s important to read the full T&Cs to ensure you know what you’re signing up for. In particular, whenever you buy a new connectable device, make sure you’re aware of how you’ve agreed to allow the manufacturer to access your personal data. Find out what info the device captures, what rights they have to the data, and whether it’s sent back to remote servers controlled by the manufacturer.
The Australian Government publishes more tips for staying safe online.
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The information contained in this article is of a general nature and is not intended to be nor should it be considered as professional advice. You should not act on the basis of anything contained in this article without first obtaining specific professional advice. Also to the extent permitted by law, Bankwest, a division of Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124 AFSL / Australian credit licence 234945, its related bodies corporate, employees and contractors accept no liability or responsibility to any persons for any loss which may be incurred or suffered as a result of acting on or refraining from acting as a result of anything contained in this article.