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Kim's column

Have a security cam? Take these essential steps now

Back in the day, keeping an eye on your home from afar meant spending a fortune on professional installation and a monthly monitoring contract. Today, you can order and install a few cameras, a smart doorbell, or a full-blown security system on your own.

Before you buy the cheapest option you can find on Amazon, take a pause. Those five-star reviews might not be legitimate. Tap or click for a tool that can help you spot fake reviews.

Fake is one thing, but some home security tech just isn’t up to snuff, like these five video doorbells that failed security tests. Yikes.

Securing your cameras isn’t difficult once you know what to do. First on the list? Good old two-factor authentication.

1. Enable an extra layer of protection

Two-factor authentication used to be a nice security bonus. Today, it’s mandatory for countless sensitive accounts. If your home security system doesn’t use 2FA, you might want to start shopping.

As a quick refresher, two-factor authentication or 2FA is a second layer of security on your accounts that requires you to put in a code — generally sent via text or email — to finish logging in on any new device, browser or system. Tap or click here for a crash course in 2FA.

Once you’ve got 2FA enabled, dig into the settings for your specific setup. Most cameras and more comprehensive systems have several measures in place to keep your feeds for your eyes only.

MY ADVICE IN YOUR INBOX: Get my trusted tech advice and digital lifestyle tips straight to your inbox with free email newsletters. Choose the topics you care about and stay in the know. Tap or click here to sign up.

Then you need to consider the bigger picture. How secure is your router? If you haven’t adjusted its settings recently, I bet you have a few to change. Here are the must-do steps:

  • Keep your software and firmware up to date.
  • Enable a firewall.
  • Turn off remote access.

It’s not as complicated as it sounds. I’ll walk you through it. Tap or click here to get step-by-step directions on how to secure your router.

2.  Bad passwords won’t cut it

Unique, strong passwords are important for every account you create, but take special care with the ones associated with anything that provides a view right into your home.

Don’t make the mistake of using whatever you choose for other accounts, too. If you reuse the same login information, hackers only need to breach one site and they’ll have access to all of your accounts.

Do I even need to tell you to stop choosing passwords that are easy to guess? Avoid using any of these:

  • Important names, including your spouse, kids, grandkids, parents, and pets.
  • Your birthday, anniversary, kids’ birthdays, house number, or phone number. That applies to your old house numbers and phone numbers, too.
  • Your high school mascot, mother’s maiden name, hometown, favorite sports team, or any other obvious fact.

Pro tip: Come up with a phrase that only you can remember.

Here’s an example: Let’s say your favorite baseball team is the Cubs. If you’re a Cubs fan, there’s no way you’d forget their stunning World Series victory in 2016. So, to remember your code, take the phrase “Cubs won the World Series in 2016” and abbreviate it to “cwtwsi2016.” Substitute some characters and cases, and you’ll have “cwTw$i2016” — a far more complex password that is not only hard to guess but easy for you to remember.

FIND HIDDEN SPY CAMS: Are you staying in a rental or hotel room any time soon? You should check for hidden cameras that could be watching your every move. Here’s how.

3. Check for updates

Camera manufacturers routinely release firmware and software updates to patch critical bugs and security holes. The problem is that they don’t tell you. It’s up to you to check for updates. If your cameras are too old to receive updates, replace them.

When it comes to updating internet-connected devices, it’s as easy as connecting to the web, checking for updates, and hitting “install.” If your system has a dedicated app, pop in from time to time to check for updates.

Do this regularly. Mark your calendar, ask your smart assistant to set reminders, or leave a note somewhere you’ll see it.

It would be best if you stayed up to date on the latest in hacks and breaches, too. Companies are compromised all the time, and you want to know about it so you can take action to protect yourself. Tap or click here to sign up for my Fraud & Security Alerts newsletter to stay in the know the easy way.

The security system I trust

For years, I’ve recommended our sponsor, SimpliSafe. You order everything you need online, then set it up yourself in about 30 minutes. It’s super easy. That means no salesperson or installation crew bugging you.

Even better, I negotiated a deal just for you. For a limited time, save 20% on your SimpliSafe security system, and get your first month free when you sign up for Interactive Monitoring.

NEED A HAND WITH A SLOW PC, SMARTPHONE ISSUES OR A SOFTWARE PROBLEM YOU CAN’T CRACK? Post your tech questions for concrete answers from me and other tech pros. Visit my Q&A Forum and get tech help now.

What digital lifestyle questions do you have? Call Kim’s national radio show and tap or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to or watch The Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet, television, or computer. Or tap or click here for Kim’s free podcasts.

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