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How To Keep Your Smart Home Secure

Hanna KielarDecember 12, 2019

Smart homes are a trend that’s here to stay. In 2016, just 12.5% of homes in the U.S. were smart homes. That’s on the rise, and by 2021, it’s predicted that 28% of homes will have that title.

While connecting your lights, thermostats, security cameras and door locks to the internet can make life much easier (“turn on the lights,” “order laundry detergent”), these options can also pose a security risk. Smart homes where you haven’t been smart about security leave you open to the risk of a hacker gaining access to your devices.

Cyber security should be one of the first things you think about when you install your first smart device.

Can Smart Home Devices Be Hacked?

In short, yes. Smart home devices are connected to your home Wi-Fi network, leaving you exposed to hackers if you don’t secure that home network. Users have had to learn this the hard way, including a Wisconsin couple that had a hacker turn up their Nest thermostat to 90 degrees and begin talking to them through their Nest camera in the kitchen. And parents who were shocked to find hackers had access to a camera being used as a baby monitor.

Being plagued by hackers isn’t the norm for many smart home device owners, but you don’t want to leave this to chance. There are steps you can take to make your smart home more secure and make it difficult for hackers to get access to the devices you use.

How To Secure Your Smart Home

Now that you know your smart home isn’t smart enough to not get hacked, it’s time to take some added security measures. To make it more difficult for hackers to gain access to your gadgets, you need to secure your home network.

Change Your Router’s Default Password

Routers come with a default password. By sticking with that password, you could be leaving the door open for a hacker who can track down a listing of default passwords or make a good guess. When you set up your router, your first step should be to change the default password. Luckily, doing this isn’t difficult and there are just a few steps involved.

Use Guest Networks

Many routers now allow you to create a guest network — a network that is separate from your main home network that you connect your phone or computer to. Using a guest network doesn’t mean hackers can’t access it, but it can keep them from accessing important personal data that is kept on devices on your other network. By isolating your smart devices on a guest network, they’re able to talk to each other, but anyone who breaks into that network won’t have access to your personal computer.

Secure Your Wi-Fi

We’ve all tried to connect to a nearby Wi-Fi network only to be foiled by that pesky password, and for good reason. It’s important to protect yourself from others trying to join your network. The key is to make sure you’re securing your network using Wi-Fi Protected Access II (or WPA2) protocol. This is the stronger of the options you will likely have on your router. If your internet service provider didn’t give you a password for your Wi-Fi network, or if you’re setting up your own network, make sure you take the time to get into the settings and select a good password.

Use Unique Passwords

If you’re one of those people that uses the same username and password for everything, now’s the time to stop. With data breaches occurring regularly, your most-loved username and password could be floating out there leaving hackers the ability to gain access to everything you use it for.

Change up your passwords and make it difficult to guess (ie: no “Password” or “Password1234”). Make sure your passwords contain capital and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Also, try to avoid simply changing some letters in a familiar word with numbers. For instance, let’s say my dog’s name is “Billy” and I got him in 2013. I do not want my password to be Bi11y2013. It’s better to use a phrase and add in some numbers and symbols. To make this easier you may want to consider using a password manager which creates unique passwords and keeps track of them for you.

Hide Your Wi-Fi Network

It’s hard to break into something you can’t see. Why not hide your Wi-Fi network so only those who need to access it can find it?

To hide your network, you can go to the settings and deselect the option to have it “Discoverable.” This means anyone who wants to get on your network will have to know its name and search for it specifically.

If you don’t want to hide your network, you could give it an obscure name. For example, I wouldn’t want to name my wireless network “Jeremy’s Place.” A much better name would be “FBI Surveillance Van.” It might keep people out just out of worry! Again, the option to change your network’s name will be in the settings of your router. The good news is if you let your internet service provider set up your network, you probably have an obscure name already. It’s likely something like aX15k3%8kne. If that’s the case, you’re all set.

By using these simple ways to protect your smart home, you can enjoy the amazing convenience of a connected home. Most smart homes and smart devices do not get hacked, but these small steps will help reduce your chances. And besides, if you follow these tips and your neighbor doesn’t, you’ll have the most secure network on the block.

As the old story goes: Two men were walking in the woods when they spotted a bear. The first man sat down and started changing out of his boots and into running shoes. “You can’t outrun a bear,” said the second man. “I don’t have to outrun the bear,” said the first. “I just have to outrun you.”

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    Hanna Kielar

    Hanna Kielar is an Associate Section Editor for Rocket Companies focused on personal finance, recruiting and personal loans. She has a B.A. in Professional Writing from Michigan State University.