Smart home gadgets are all the rage right now. Web-connected thermostats, sound systems, light bulbs, baby monitors, security cameras and even virtual assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Home - we're all thrilled that these devices are making our lives easier. But are they wreaking havoc on our privacy and security?
We've already warned you about the fact that devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home are always listening. But that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the problems with smart home technology. With so many manufacturers producing and selling these individual products, the security settings are often lacking.
In 2016, we witnessed what can happen when hackers gain access to these vulnerable gadgets. In January, a frightening website was discovered on the Dark Web that shared images captured from millions of baby monitors.
As creepy as that is, in October, a colossal DDoS attack (or distributed denial of service attack) caused internet outages along the East Coast. Even sites such as Netflix, Amazon, Twitter and other giants experienced outages in those areas.
Vulnerable security cameras turned out to be the gadget hackers targeted for that particular cyberattack, but it could have been any number of devices designed to make your home "smarter."
Now, as 2016 winds down to an end, security experts are beginning to warn us what the future may bring. And the news isn't good. If you thought 2016 was riddled with cyberattacks, just wait until 2017.
James Lyne, global head of security for Sophos, a cybersecurity company in the U.K., said, "the sharks have smelled the blood in the water and they're now circling to use your IoT device for further attacks."
IoT, which stands for Internet of Things, is the label these web-connected smart home devices have been given. And, it's not the increasing number of IoT gadgets on the market that has security experts so worried. It's the behavior of the consumers who seem uninterested or unconcerned over the hacking risks these gadgets bring with them.
Poor programming is what makes these devices so susceptible to hacks. Plus, they all come with generic usernames and passwords that most consumers never change. This makes them easy targets for malware infections.
According to Sophos, the DDoS attack that took place in October was only a practice run for hackers, who are just now beginning to test the capabilities of these types of attacks.
Because of this, the Department of Homeland Security has stepped in by issuing a set of standards all IoT device manufacturers must follow with their products. Still, these standards are not law, they're only guidelines. And that doesn't always carry much weight.
So, what can you do to protect yourself?
First, before purchasing any device that can connect to the internet, you should ask yourself if you really need it. If you do need it, then be sure to take the steps to lock down the device's security settings. This means changing the username and password from the default settings and checking for regular firmware updates. Now, with these attacks out in the open, manufacturers will start issuing security patches to prevent such infections.
If your gadget is infected, you'll also need to take the appropriate steps to remove the malware from your system. Since these IoT appliance infections only reside on temporary memory, the first thing you have to do is reboot the device to clear out the malware.
If you are checking your router, IP webcam or connected printer, it is important that you change the default administrator username and password. Do this by accessing the appliance's hub (usually through a webpage or a smartphone app). Click here for a more in-depth look at protecting your IoT gadgets.
Finally, the more gadgets you connect to your Wi-Fi network, the more important it becomes that you properly secure your router. Click here for the one thing your router needs to keep hackers out.