Our homes are more connected than ever before. Between Alexa, smart home devices, and Wi-Fi throughout our houses, there’s no escaping the reach of the internet in our domestic lives. On the one hand, this has made daily living more convenient, with voice command or button services. On the other hand, by connecting everything in our home to the internet, we open ourselves up to hackers, thieves and cybercriminals.
When we talk about the threat posed by hackers, it’s important to remember that cybercrime, by definition, requires the use of the internet. The connections we use between all of our devices are the vectors that criminals use to attack us.
Once inside our devices or data, hackers can compromise our finances, steal important information and wreak havoc on our personal lives.
To safeguard our homes from hackers, the best strategy is to hack-proof the most common points of entry: routers, smart TV’s, voice assistants and smartphones.
Let’s go over the best ways to secure these essential home devices, allowing you to create a safer environment for you and your family’s personal data.
Hack-proofing your home router
Your router is your home’s overall gateway to the internet. Any networked devices must pass information through your router, making it the number one target for hackers looking to compromise your entire system.
Routers themselves typically have several features that allow users to defend against intruders, such as encryption, passwords and firewalls. While these are useful, routers can still have vulnerabilities if not regularly maintained. Consider this guide a form of “security housekeeping” that allows you to stay on top of your router’s weak spots with regular checkups and updates.
Stay up to date
As technology products, routers are constantly being updated and improved by their developers. Typically, router manufacturers will release software updates to your device when they spot critical security flaws or glitches that make their products more vulnerable. Because of this, you should regularly keep your router on the latest firmware available.
You can access your firmware updates by visiting your router’s admin page. You can reach this by entering your router’s IP address into any browser window. You can usually find this number on the side or bottom of the router.
Having trouble finding your router IP address? If you’re a Windows user, follow these steps:
- Hit the Windows icon in the bottom left of your screen. Type “cmd” and click cmd. (You can also just hit the Windows key + R and enter cmd.)
- In the Command Prompt window, type ipconfig.
- Scroll down to the heading that says Wireless LAN adapter Wi-Fi. There, you’ll find your IP address.
If you’re a Mac user, here’s what to do:
- Go to System Preferences.
- Click Network.
- Select WiFi in the left panel.
- Then click Advanced.
- Click the TCP/IP tab in the top panel.
- You will find your router’s IP address next to Router.
You’ll also need to restart your router once the update is finished, which will cause your devices to briefly disconnect until the setup is complete. Tap or click here for more information on accessing your admin page and updating router firmware.
Apply a password
Thanks to our growing knowledge of cybersecurity, we know most home routers come standard with a password built-in. This means if you never created a password for your router, it’s probably stuck on the default password.
This is dangerous because hackers often try common default passwords in their first attempts to brute-force a system. If you want to change your device password, you’ll need to access your admin page as well.
This admin page, just like the method above, can be accessed by entering your router’s IP address into a web browser window. Here, you’ll enter your current password, and once you’re logged in, you should have the option to change your network password.
A secure router password is a critical step to take because it’s the first line of defense against hackers. To protect your information, it’s recommended you have a strong password. If it’s hard to remember, make sure it’s written down somewhere before you save it.
(Note: Another way to find your router’s password is by using this cool site. Check it out now so you can change the password for better security.)
Pay attention to your DNS settings
DNS servers are what routes your computer or device to the right places on the internet. If your DNS settings are corrupted or changed by a hacker, this can set you on target to spoofed websites or bombard you with inappropriate advertisements that wouldn’t normally reach you.
Usually, you can only change your DNS settings through the admin page of your router. However, there are multiple tools available that can help monitor and protect your DNS settings going forward. My personal recommendation is F-Secure Router Checker, which keeps tabs on your current DNS settings and can alert you of any changes it finds.
Protecting your smart TV from hackers
Smart TVs are our entertainment gateway, providing us with hours of binge-able content. Even though they’re not computers in the proper sense, smart TVs still run the risk of being hacked. To keep this device safe, you’ll need to follow some practices that prevent third-party programs from installing on your device.
Keep your phone clean
We’ll be going over this in more detail below, but it’s worth keeping in mind that any smartphone with fishy apps installed can also share those apps with any device it’s connected to.
This means if you download something shady and want to stream your phone’s display to your smart TV, that shady app can potentially transfer over and hijack your system. Keeping your phone free of untrustworthy programs is a good first step to protecting the rest of your home.
Avoid bootleg streaming devices
We’ve discussed the legal risks of bootleg streaming gadgets, but security risks are another reason to avoid these “too-good-to-be-true” platforms. Just like shady apps installed to a networked smartphone, if you connect your smart TV to a bootleg device, you’re opening up your watch history, search results and recommendation algorithms to unknown individuals who may not have your best interests in mind
Turn your Wi-Fi on as needed
If you want to be especially cautious, a common strategy employed by security researchers is turning your device’s Wi-Fi off when you’re not using the feature. This takes the “smart” functionality away from your TV temporarily, but there are several upsides to this plan of action.
If you decide to watch a movie, it’s easy to open up the menu and pop the Wi-Fi on. If you’re not using your TV for a while, turn it off. This saves electricity and closes a potential gateway for hackers.
Keep your voice assistants free from hackers
More than any other device or software, voice assistants like Alexa have made themselves stars in the smart home scene. This is because voice assistants offer so much flexibility in how to interact with devices in your home. They can even do things like turn on your lights, order food or tell a joke.
Your voice assistants, sadly, are not immune to the threat of hacking. Just like with your smart TV, if someone manages to hack into a device connected to your voice assistant, they might be able to access your information. The same solution applies here: be careful of what you download.
Teach Alexa the right skills
For Alexa specifically, one of the places Amazon’s smart assistant is vulnerable is through Alexa Skills. These voice-controlled “apps” provide Alexa with a range of new abilities, but just like any app store, sometimes bad programs slip through that can compromise user data.
Always check who the developer is before downloading new Alexa skills. This is extremely important since Alexa handles not only voice recordings but also your Amazon account.
Protect your connected accounts
Speaking of Amazon, one of the biggest threats a hacker can pose through your voice assistant is to target your connected accounts. The biggest names here are your Amazon account or Apple ID, which interact with your voice assistant.
These accounts contain purchase history and personal data such as your credit card number and home address. Make sure to change your account passwords regularly, which can prevent hackers from gaining this sensitive info.
Here’s a final tip you should always follow: Never use the same password twice!
We get it — you don’t want a long list of codes to remember. But if you reuse the same password, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. The extra work is worth the effort.
Defend your smartphone from hackers
Even though your router is the true gateway between your home and the internet, few devices in your house are used as often as your smartphone.
We’ve gone over how to protect your phone from hackers in previous articles, but concerning your home, one of the most important things you can do is keep your device away from untrustworthy apps and software.
The root of the problem
Another factor that’s often ignored by experienced techies is jailbreaking or rooting your devices.
This means installing unauthorized operating systems that open your device up to third-party apps that aren’t checked by either Google or Apple. Many people use this to download bootleg streaming services for free movies or apps that let them change their operating system’s appearance, but looks can be deceiving.
Jailbreaking or rooting your smartphone not only voids the warranty in Apple’s case but makes your phone vulnerable to threats that its natural operating system would be able to fend off without an issue.
Your device software is engineered to withstand heavy internet use, making them more secure than browsing on a simple desktop PC. Remove your official operating system, and you’re no better off than browsing with Windows XP without an antivirus.