On edge after the DDoS attack? Here’s how to prevent your smart home from being hacked

smart home security precautions 42356423  remote control system on a digital tablet or phone
scyther5 / 123RF Stock Photo
We may never know who was actually responsible for the internet DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack last week. Post attack analysis, however, revealed that the hackers took over hundred of thousands of devices, many of them smart home devices, to run the attacks. If you want to protect your smart home devices from being hijacked for future DoS attacks and to keep outsiders from hacking into your home systems, you need to be proactive in taking precautions, according to Recode.

Recode reports that the primary hijacking method in the attacks last week involved breaking through passwords. In too many cases people who set up networks and smart home systems in their homes left default passwords in place. People often don’t stop to consider security in the anticipation of benefits and during the sometimes confusing setup steps involved.

There aren’t many steps to take to add significant protection to your smart home, and you don’t have to be a security expert. But you should consider taking basic precautions and perhaps revisiting them each quarter and anytime you add a new device or system to your home.

Passwords

Passwords are your first line of defense, on two levels. Any user who has access to your home systems has a password. Also, there is generally an administrator or “admin” password for people with permission to reset or reconfigure the system. Manufacturers often ship devices with default passwords and recommend in the installation instructions that you change the password either during installation or at a later time. Guess what the most common default password is? It’s “admin,” and has been for years.

Beyond that extremely simple guess, which sadly works too often, hackers know or can easily find default user and administrator passwords for major brands online. Many manufacturers use the same default passwords across all lines of products, so all hackers need to know is the brand of your equipment to get in.

Device ID names

Also, taking a page from home network security, if your device is visible on the internet to anyone with a scanner (which can mean a regular smartphone), be sure to change the device ID if you can. Often the default device ID includes the manufacturer’s name — which right off tells hackers what brand you have and since you haven’t changed it, that tells hackers all your home systems and devices may be vulnerable.

Note: if you do change your device or system ID, don’t use your name or address in the ID — that just makes you an easier target. Much better to have a nonsense name that doesn’t, for example, correspond to your favorite football team that’s also on your car bumper sticker. If hackers are scanning neighborhood network access points and see an address, their job is easier. Your job is to be invisible or undetectable from the crowd so they’ll hack your neighbors instead.

Stay up to date

Be sure you have updated hardware for devices like routers and access points that can provide an open door to all the other systems in your home. Hackers stay up to date on system and device vulnerabilities, so don’t be caught with an older, wide open device. At least be sure to update your components’ drivers, software, and firmware whenever advised by the manufacturer.

Secure your systems including your home network

Having an open network may sound neighborly so friends next door can share your Netflix account or other services. However, not only can you lose bandwidth (speed and capacity) for your own internet use, you can also be giving your neighborhood hackers and anyone who walks or drives by an invitation to take over your system. With network routers and access points, definitely select “secure” or “encrypted.” You’ll be offered security options in many cases, which assumes you know the difference. When in doubt, go with WPA2 if that’s on the list.

Stay off the net

Some smart home devices don’t rely on an internet connection in order to function. If you don’t care that your smart appliance can connect to the manufacturer for service monitoring, turn that feature off if possible. The fewer devices in your home that connect to the internet, the fewer open doors you offer to the hacking world.

Inexpensive devices can cost you

Be careful when choosing and buying smart home appliances and devices. Sometimes you can get a better price for what seems to be identical quality and function from a more obscure company. That savings may cost you, however, as the largest companies have the budgets needed to build, maintain, and update security factors. After last week’s DDoS internet hijacking, Chinese security camera maker Xiongmai Technologies said that its IP cameras were hijacked and used in the attacks, according to Krebs on Security. Xiongmai’s cameras are used by other manufacturers in their own devices.

Computing

These are the worst passwords of 2018. Is yours on this list?

Do you use a bad password that makes your online accounts easy to break into? SplashData has compiled a list of the top 100 worst passwords for 2018 and there are quite a few listings that were carryovers from prior lists.
Computing

How to connect AirPods to your MacBook

If you have new AirPods, you may be looking forward to pairing them with your MacBook. Our guide will show you exactly how to connect AirPods to MacBook, what to do if they are already paired with a device, and more.
Home Theater

From the Roku Ultra to the Fire TV Cube, these are the best streaming devices

There are more options for media streamers than ever, so it’s more difficult to pick the best option. But that’s why we're here. Our curated list of the best streaming devices will get you online in no time.
Smart Home

People are stealing Ring doorbells (and it’s no knock-knock joke)

Ring Video Doorbell thefts in a Denver neighborhood raise questions about how much security the smart home devices actually provide. One homeowner and the police have a video of the theft. Here's what to do if your Ring device is stolen.
Smart Home

With a simple command, Alexa can arm all your security devices

Alexa customers can query status plus arm or disarm home security systems several companies. New Alexa Guard skills set your home to away mode, send alerts when alarms or sensors go off, and contact home security monitoring services.
Smart Home

Voice assistant-enabled Deebot N79S robot vacuum now deeply discounted

The Ecovacs Deebot N79 is more powerful and quieter than its predecessor and adds Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility. Ready to make cleaning easier than ever, this voice-enabled bot will vacuum your home on spoken command.
Product Review

Hue who? Nanoleaf Canvas brings a riot of color and vibrancy to the smart home

Fun and festive, Nanoleaf Canvas feature lighting adds personality and vibrancy to any room. Nanoleaf Canvas features squares that you can connect in any configuration you’d like. Sync to music, play games, or relax in soothing light.
Smart Home

Facebook Portal and Portal+ video-calling devices gain new content and features

Facebook's Portal devices are video smart speakers with Alexa voice assistants built in that allow you to make calls. The 15-inch Portal+ model features a pivoting camera that follows you around the room as you speak.
Smart Home

Dog or cat shedding? These vacuums do a great job of sucking up pet hair

Got a pet hair problem? Fortunately, there's help for you and your furry friend. We tested out a bunch of vacuums that promise to remove pet hair. Here are a few of the best you can buy.
Smart Home

Rocco wants to rock out. Parrot learns to use owner’s Amazon Alexa

Rocco, an African gray parrot, fell in love with his owner's Alexa unit and ordered himself treats and other goodies, but mostly uses the smart assistant to rock out to his favorite music.
Smart Home

Find good gift ideas with these small kitchen appliance deals on Amazon

Small kitchen appliances are favorite holiday gifts to give and to receive and that doesn't only mean an Instant Pot. We found excellent deals on Amazon for blenders and espresso makers plus a highly rated sous vide machine.
Smart Home

The Echo Wall Clock can help you keep track of multiple Alexa timers

Amazon just released the Echo Wall Clock that was announced at its September new hardware device event in Seattle. The Echo Wall Clock is an analog clock that also indicates the minutes remaining on one or more Alexa timers.
Product Review

Ring Alarm makes DIY home security simple and affordable enough for everyone

Ring first made waves with its video doorbell, and now the Amazon-owned company is moving on to home security with the Ring Alarm. You can install the sensors and keypads yourself, then have Ring professionally monitor your home.
Smart Home

Espresso On Demand: The five best Nespresso machines

Most people still trek down to their local coffee shop to get an espresso or a cappuccino, but you don't have to. A Nespresso machine can put coffee shop quality espresso on your kitchen counter.