Smart Home & Security

Smart Home & Security

Do those words belong in the same sentence? 

By: Jerry Horton, IT Director

Recently, the Fox News affiliate in Kansas City reported about a Milwaukee, WI couple whose smart home began to exhibit strange behavior – a security camera spoke to them and the thermostat was set to 90°. No, this was not poltergeists or other supernatural phenomena; simply put, the smart home devices owned by the couple had been compromised by cyber-criminals. 

To make this story even more uncomfortable, the couple had purchased equipment from a reputable manufacturer and had installed it according to the instructions provided. However, this was not enough to properly secure the couple’s home network or devices. Sad as it is to say, smart home devices for the consumer are designed for ease of installation and use, with security being a secondary consideration (if at all for some manufacturers.) In this case, the manufacturer is one which is more security conscious, so the breach is more troubling to the average person, even though the manufacturer is ultimately not responsible. 

What befell the Milwaukee couple was the direct result of a common problem – improper attention to basic security practices. Their home WiFi was not properly secured and multi-factor authentication was not applied to the smart devices, allowing the cyber criminals to easily seize control of their systems. Once the couple contacted the ISP to assist, the problem ceased. However, by following a few simple steps, the couple may have avoided the problem altogether. 

Basic Home Network and Smart Device Security Practices 

  1. Don’t use default passwords! All home networking devices, including WiFi routers, have a factory default password that should be changed upon installation. These factory default passwords are posted on the Internet and very easy to find. 
  2. Turn off remote access! Most home WiFi routers have a setting to allow remote management, which is enabled by default. Combined with default password, this is a free pass for cyber-criminals.  
  3. Use the highest level of WiFi security possible! Many of the older versions of wireless security have been compromised and are easy to crack. WPA2 with a complex passphrase is the minimum level recommended. 
  4. Don’t reuse online credentials! Smart devices require an online account to operate. It is a far too common practice to use the same username and password for many online accounts. Each online account should have a different password or passphrase. Read my blog – Top 11 Tips for Protecting Yourself Online – for information on how to build strong but easy to remember passwords, as well as other useful tips! 
  5. Turn on multi-factor authentication! Multi-factor authentication requires that you provide more than a password to login to a website or devices – think of thumbprint recognition as one type. The most reputable websites and smart home devices have the ability to turn on multi-factor authentication. After you login to the online site or app with your username and password, a text message is sent to your cellphone with a temporary passcode of 5 or 6 digits, which you then use to complete your login. While this may seem like an inconvenience, it prevents the vast majority of cyber-criminal breaches and the poor Milwaukee couple would likely not have suffered at all. 
  6. Get a trusted professional to help you install your smart home devices! While smart home devices for the consumer are designed to be pretty simple to install and operate, simple does not equate to secure! A professional can advise you how to best to enjoy your new devices with increased peace of mind. 

Blue Valley offers several products to help you avoid a situation such as that faced by the Milwaukee couple: 

  • Managed WiFi: Using secure communications to the router, we ensure that the highest possible levels of security are configured, as well as disabling settings which may create a ‘backdoor’ for cyber-criminals! 
  • Password Managers: Setting up different credentials for all of your online accounts can be a daunting task, but a great password manager makes it a breeze!  
  • Professional Advice & Service: Our friendly techs are always available to help!