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How to Defend Your Smart Home Against Hackers by@josh-jackman

How to Defend Your Smart Home Against Hackers

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Josh Jackman HackerNoon profile picture

Josh Jackman

Writer. Smart homes specialist. Big, big tech nerd.

Of course, we love hackers here at Hacker Noon. It’s right there in the name.

But no-one enjoys it when a black hat hacker violates the security of your home, and doesn’t leave until they’ve taken your passwords, money, and banking details.

With the advent of the Smart Home Age, we’re at the precipice of countless unsuspecting homes losing everything to thieving hackers.

These criminals will stroll past rudimentary barriers, barely breaking a sweat on their way to stealing your savings.

How a hacker can ruin your life

The latest smart home statistics show there are more than 2.2 million smart homes in the UK alone.

With this rising popularity of home automation platforms, where everything is connected by a single wifi network and a chain of commands, all hackers need to do is intercept one connection, and insert themselves into it.

If your smart camera sends you a photo every time there’s movement outside your home, a hacker could get those photos too. 

If your smartphone unlocks your home or turns off your alarms, theirs could too.

If you have a smart speaker, a hacker could clone your voice and gain access to anything voice-controlled in your home.

Hell, if your lights are set to turn on when you’re home, prompting your alarm to also turn off, all a hacker has to do is access a lightbulb, change its setting from ‘away’ to ‘at home’, and they can rob you blind.

And you would have no idea. All changes to your automation platform are treated the same, and aren’t displayed anywhere obvious. There’s no reason you’d ever know – until it’s too late.

All it takes is one weak spot. If a criminal can hack one device, and you haven’t secured your wifi password or network, they can watch as you enter your banking passwords, then withdraw or spend your cash at their leisure.

And in 2018, a study by researchers at Ben-Gurion University in Israel looked at 16 smart home devices including cameras and doorbells, which are designed to protect you against intruders. They found the devices were all pretty easy to hack.

Most smart devices are mass-produced, meaning it’s easy for a criminal to get their hands on an identical item to yours – and work out how to hack it.

Plus, if you’re online, there’s no way of hiding yourself. Your internet-connected devices can be seen all over the world, on data platforms like Shodan.

Malicious people will take advantage of that fact to hack into home automation systems, webcams, or even weaponised ships – unless you take the proper precautions.


How you can stop them

Change your passwords. This sounds simple – and it is – but it’s one of the main ways in which people can easily gain access to your home.

Don’t change it to “password”, though. Or “1234”. Or – look, just make it hard to guess.

A multi-word phrase or a collection of letters, numbers, and punctuation marks will suffice, as long as you change all your passwords from their defaults.

Use two-factor authentication. Do this on as many devices as possible. If the functionality exists, use it.

Get a file integrity monitor. This handy tool will show you any changes made to your automation platform’s rules, so you can quickly spot a fox in your hen house.

Limit the functions of – and data gathered by – your smart devices.

  • Your lightbulb doesn’t need to know where it is in the world.
  • Your TV doesn’t need to know when you’re home and when you’re out.
  • If your home knows, a hacker-burglar can know. 

Create a second wifi network for your smart home platform. That way, even if someone gets in, they’ll be isolated to the network that doesn’t have your banking details, card information, or email password.

Ask yourself: is it worth it? Every device adds a certain level of risk and vulnerability to your system, so before you add yet another smart item, perform your own small cost-benefit analysis.

Unplug all the smart devices you don’t need when you go on holiday. Give your smart speakers, smart TVs, and smart plug-enabled toasters a rest, and make your home less vulnerable to attacks.

Register new devices with the manufacturer. This will allow you access to any and all updates and fixes which the company offers you.

You should accept all of these, of course. You don’t want to be let down by a small, solvable glitch.

Wipe your data before your device leaves you. Whether your smart item is bound for the rubbish bin or a grateful recipient, remove all the data it contains and reset it to its factory settings.

After all, you don’t want to be undone by a thermostat – or your cat’s old smart litter tray.

Be careful. This sounds uncomplicated and vague, but it needs to be said.

For instance, don’t put smart cameras in a room that you would feel horrified if strangers saw into. That means bedrooms should probably be completely off-limits.

And of course, follow the advice above constantly. It may be the difference between a safe life and losing everything.

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