Each holiday season, there’s a huge surge in the purchase of smart home devices. Here are seven IoT device security guidelines to minimize your cyber risk.

December 13, 2019

4 Min Read
Image shows a smart speaker near a Christmas tree.
Getty Images

By Debby Briggs

We’re in the midst of the holiday season, and each year, our holiday wish lists include more technical gadgets that make our lives more enjoyable or secure if done right.

These devices can also make our lives more convenient. We can use smart doorbells to see who’s visiting, intelligent security systems to protect our homes and connected baby monitors to check the nursery while on the go. Smart speaker applications can even tell other devices what to do, reminding your TV to record a show or your heating system to increase the temperature.

There will be more than 26 billion Internet of Things devices by 2020, including the one on your child’s wish list. But there’s a darker side to this technology because all these gadgets can be hacked and used for nefarious purposes.

Many IoT devices have built-in microphones, cameras or location trackers that broadcast information without you even knowing it. As consumers, we need to do our research to understand how to protect ourselves, so we can enjoy the value these devices provide.

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It’s important to read company privacy policies and know what these devices are learning about you and your family. Service providers are getting more transparent and allowing consumers to opt out of data sharing. We should all be aware of the protections they offer in this regard. By understanding the technologies they offer, we’ll know which provider works best for our needs.

Before putting IoT devices under the tree, we also need to protect our home networks from hackers. Here are several IoT device security hints that will allow users to keep their data safe and maintain their privacy.

  1. Know What You Have: You can’t keep gadgets safe when you’re not aware of them, so know the number of IoT devices that are on your home network. The average home has eight networked devices per person, and that number will continue to grow. Your kids count here. Know the devices they have on the network. Most gaming systems have microphones and cameras.

  2. Use Strong Passwords: This rule goes for your phones, tablets and other devices. Each one should be different and changed regularly. I like to think of vanity plates I see while driving to make up my passwords. Make sure never to use the default password that came with the product. These are well-known, and this is the first thing a hacker will try. 

  3. Make Sure Your Children Are Cyber Aware: Your kids probably know more about using technology than you think. It is time to have ‘the talk’ about passwords. 

  4. Make Sure to Update Your IoT Devices: IoT devices are not “set it and forget it” gadgets. Since they are on the internet, they need to be updated frequently. Enable automatic updates and multi-factor authentication. 

  5. Be Aware of Microphones: If the device has a microphone, understand how it listens and how long it stores recordings. Realize that when you ask your smart speaker to do something, that recording is saved on the internet by the company that made the device.

  6. Configure Your Privacy Options: Turn on appropriate privacy settings that disable the use of voice recording, when possible.

  7. Put Your IoT Devices on a Separate Network: If possible, create two password-protected Wi-Fi networks in your home. Use one for your computers, tablets and phones. Enable the second one for your IoT devices, sharing passwords with family and friends as needed — but don’t give any devices access to your contacts.

With these IoT device security tips, you’ll be prepared for the influx of smart devices in your home this holiday season.

Debby Briggs is the chief security officer at NETSCOUT. Debby has more than 20 years of experience in cybersecurity and has been with NETSCOUT for the last 15 years. Before joining NETSCOUT, Debby held various network administrator and IT infrastructure roles with leading companies, including RSA, Healthsource and GTE. She holds an MBA from Southern New Hampshire University, a CISSP and a BS in computer science. Debby is also a patent owner for technology using trust profiles for network breach detection.

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