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Change this one setting to stop hackers from taking over your smart home devices

Change this one setting to stop hackers from taking over your smart home devices
© Alexander Oganezov | Dreamstime.com

In the past year alone, we've seen an incredible amount of smart home products make their way to the market. Between refrigerators, TVs and thermostats, it won't be too long before every piece of our domestic lives is outfitted with futuristic tech that can interact with us.

But as with any beneficial technology, there are numerous frightening drawbacks to consider. And no, we're not just talking about privacy issues either. If a piece of technology is opened up to the internet, that means there's an avenue for hackers and cybercriminals to take control and create chaos for owners. But are we really at a stage where hackers are hacking smart homes?

As it turns out, the reality is far scarier than you think. A Wisconsin couple recently experienced the worst of the modern internet when a hacker took over their smart thermostat and tormented them for an entire day. Here's what happened to them, as well as what you can do to keep hackers from violating the most private space in your life: your home.

pwned at home

According to reporting from Fox 6, a couple in Wisconsin experienced 24 hours of terror when hackers infiltrated their Nest smart thermostat. The Westmorelands, two ordinary folks going about their lives, had enjoyed the benefits of smart devices in their home for some time. It wasn't until they started feeling unusual heat coming from their vents, however, that they knew something was wrong.

One day after coming home, Samantha Westmoreland noticed that someone had changed the thermostat settings to a whopping 90 degrees! She nor her husband had touched the Nest, so they were unsure what had caused the temperature spike.

It wasn't until they started hearing a frightening voice coming from their Nest in the kitchen that they realized what had happened: A hacker had broken into their system!

From here, the intruder began to taunt them and play "vulgar music" in order to create fear and panic. Eventually, the Westmorelands ended up unplugging their Nest system and resetting their Wi-Fi. The hacker, it seemed, was finally gone.

Google eventually responded to the matter, claiming the issue was likely caused by a leak of the couple's account on another platform.

They confirmed no security breaches had taken place at Nest and urged anyone who had not migrated their account to a Google account for extra safety. In particular, they highlighted the importance of setting up two-factor authentication as deterrence against incidents like this in the future.

How can I keep my smart home system safe from hackers?

As it turns out, Google isn't wrong here. Two-factor authentication (2FA) is one of the best ways to keep an account or system safe from prying eyes and criminals.

Here's how it works: When you set up 2FA, you are required to enter a code you receive via text message or email in order to finish logging in to your account. This means anyone attempting to breach your system now needs an additional code to gain entry, and since they don't have your phone, they'll be stuck unless they can accurately guess the code keeping them out (this code expires after a brief period of time).

To make matters even worse for the hacker, the user is automatically texted the code at the time of a login attempt. This means anyone with 2FA set up will automatically be alerted of any unauthorized login attempts by default! It's a double whammy against intruders, and all it takes is one extra moment when you log in. Not a bad deal, honestly.

Here's how you can set up 2FA for the two most popular smart home device account types: Google and Amazon.

For your Google/Nest accountyou'll need to visit this specific page where you can activate two-factor authentication.

To begin, open the link, sign in with your Google account and tap Get Started. You might be asked to sign in again after this step. Then, add your country from the dropdown menu and enter your phone number in the field that appears.

From here, you'll be able to choose whether you want a verification text message or phone call. Tap Next, and you'll have your authentication sent to your phone. Enter the code you receive and tap Next. Once Google has verified your code, tap Turn On to enable the service on your account.

For your Amazon account, you'll need to visit this specific page where you can activate two-factor authentication.

To begin, open the link, sign in with your Amazon account and tap Get Started. You might be asked to sign in again after this step. Then, enter your phone number click Send code. Then, enter the code you receive to continue.

Before setup is finished, you'll need to enter one backup phone number in case yours becomes inaccessible. Just make sure that this number belongs to someone you trust or is an additional phone number that you own.

Bonus: Trusted home protection

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Nest and Google are merging - Here's what it means for your smart devices

If you have a smart home or are thinking about upgrading to one, you need to pay attention here. Google and Nest have merged and it could impact the way your smart home operates. We'll let you know how the merger could affect you and what new customers can look forward to.

Click or tap here to learn more about the Google and Nest merger and how you could be impacted.

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