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Internet of Things Security: How To Protect Your Smart Home

Written by: Gryphon Online Safety Inc. / November 15, 2021

It wasn’t too long ago that smart homes and the Internet of Things (IoT) were just theoretical ideas on the horizon. How many of us thought that we’d experience real smart home technology in this generation and that it would be so accessible and influential?
All speculation aside, the smart home is here, and thanks to a growing ecosystem of IoT devices, it’s more easily managed and impactful than we expected.
However, all great technological leaps come with some concerns, and for smart homes and the IoT, there’s one thing on everyone’s mind: network security.
With dozens of connected devices on a single WiFi network at once, it’s only natural to wonder how secure the IoT really is and the types of hazards that await those who fail to upgrade their security protocols for smart homes.
You aren’t alone in questioning the security and privacy implications for the IoT, but there’s no reason to worry – we’re here to break down the full range of security needs for your smart home so that you can have peace of mind moving forward.

Understanding Smart Home Security

There are so many aspects to the IoT and smart home security that we must start broadly before zooming in on protocols, policies, and practical recommendations.
Here’s what you should know at the beginning of your smart home journey so that you can make the best decisions when it comes time to choose between hardware, software, and other variables.

More Devices, Better Devices

What is the Internet of Things anyway, and how does it relate to the smart home?
The IoT is best defined as an interconnected system of computing devices, digital machines, mechanical components, household objects, and the people who interface with this technology daily. These devices often have interactive capabilities.
The IoT is our broad umbrella term for any system that includes this wide range of tech, whether a large corporate office, a hospital with numerous branches, a sprawling university campus, or any type of local area network you can imagine.
On the other hand, the smart home is a specific term referring to the immediate network that everyday folks use in the comfort of their house, apartment, or any type of living environment.
In other words, all smart homes are examples of the IoT in practice, but not all IoT systems are considered smart homes.
The cornerstone of the smart home is the number of devices that communicate with the network, with each other, and with the individuals who use this technology in so many ways.
Here is just a shortlist of devices that may be part of an IoT set up in your smart home:
-Laptops, desktops, smartphones, tablets
-Television sets, Bluetooth speakers, video game consoles
-Refrigerators, microwaves, dishwashers, and other kitchen appliances
-Home assistant devices, security cameras, garage door openers
-Smart lighting, climate controls, atmospheric monitoring, and more
These examples are some of the most common smart home devices in the IoT ecosystem right now, and we’ve only just scratched the surface!
We can only imagine where the smart home will go next in terms of innovation and what this means for the convenience and enjoyment of life at home, not to mention time and money savings that can accumulate over time.

Possible Threats and Vulnerabilities

It’s easy to get carried away with the exciting possibilities presented by the IoT, but there are also many dangers that all smart homeowners must consider at every level.
In the world of cybersecurity, IoT systems have a particularly large “attack surface” compared to traditional networks with fewer devices, meaning that there are far more possible points of entry for networks to be accessed and compromised.
In other words, the more devices on a network and the more ways they can interact with one another, the greater the possibility for intrusions and hacking campaigns to breach the perimeter. Some possible threats include attacks from botnets -- specifically IoT botnets -- malware, Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks, and data breaches.
This is especially true of devices that may not have strong security measures compared to computing hardware, whether a home assistant device, a TV set or a robot vacuum cleaner.
The other factor to consider with smart home security is the threat vectors accompanying a broad, interconnected series of devices on a network.
While we might enjoy the convenience of opening our garage or unlocking our front door with a click of a button on a smartphone app, that increased accessibility comes with hazards of its own and serious implications for the physical safety of us and our families.
It may not be a big deal for a hacker to flip lights on and off, but gaining access to your home or a surveillance camera – those are serious breaches that should be accounted for in any smart home implementation.

Smart Risk Management and Strategy

As with any type of investment or technology plan, smart home adopters must think about every possible angle of attack when making these decisions, managing risk in an intelligent way and even accounting for worst-case scenarios. There are best practices for all of this.
Keep in mind that smart home tech is marketed and advertised as perfectly safe and secure, but this is simply not the case 100% of the time.
Always do your research when looking at IoT devices, particularly first-generation technologies with limited real-world use cases and a lack of testing or reviews.
If you’re not completely convinced about the security of a certain piece of technology and think you may run into security issues, we suggest waiting until more research and reports have been established, so that you won’t run any unnecessary risks for you and your family.

How To Protect Your Smart Home

The truth is that most of us are eager to adopt smart home technology and want the latest, greatest devices ASAP!
We understand, but you should still proceed with caution when implementing smart home tech of any type. Here are some practical tips to follow to minimize risk as you make these additions.

Start with Your Router

Your router is not only the gateway to the internet for your everyday wireless devices, but it’s also the central point of control and access for every aspect of your smart home.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve only got a few smartphones and laptops or a full-fledged IoT ecosystem with dozens of devices – the router is where security begins!
With that in mind, it may be time to upgrade your router if you’re on the path to a smart home setup.
Mesh routers, in particular, are notably better for IoT systems because they can manage multiple devices at once while keeping connectivity and speeds high across the board.
Top-tier routers also include hardware-level security features that give you an extra edge as an administrator. This limits the need for third-party firewalls, anti-virus software, and other add-ons that become quite costly and confusing to manage.

Solid and Secure Passwords

Have you been using the same old default password for years across all your devices and accounts?
If you want to secure your IoT ecosystem, it’s time to give your passwords a revamp. This is also a good opportunity to implement any other security measures you haven't yet, such as two-factor authentication.
Write them down if need be, or use a digital vault to keep them secure with a master password that should never be forgotten.

Utilize the Latest WPA Protocols

WiFi Protected Access (WPA) only recently saw a major upgrade to WPA3, making it the strongest protocol yet for wireless security and network-level encryption.
Don’t limit yourself to WPA2 if you want to fortify your IoT defenses. Level up to WPA3 if possible and configure your settings accordingly.

Disable Unnecessary Features

Devices and apps will come and go as you create your ideal smart home setup over time.
When it’s time to discontinue a certain device or app, uninstall them completely from the network and don’t look back. This is how you ensure your network remains secure from every possible angle.
On the flip side, you should also keep your latest tech updated and upgraded at all times to limit vulnerabilities on that front.

Machine Learning Security Tech

Unless you’re a cyber security pro, you’ll need some help tracking and anticipating certain threats as they come up against your IoT perimeter.
Today’s best mesh WiFi routers come with advanced machine learning security features to analyze these attacks in real-time, protecting your network automatically as new information is processed.

Parental Controls and Transparency

Hardware and software can only do so much to protect your IoT in the home.
You also need smart policies and protections on a personal level, which can include parental controls for your children as they navigate the web.
Teach your kids about the importance of safe internet use and leverage parental controls to limit access where necessary.

Smart Home Security Is in Your Hands

There is always more to discover about IoT security and protecting your smart home. Now that the industry is advancing so fast, you’ll need to stay up on developments and news stories to keep ahead of the curve!
But no matter what happens, remember that smart home security is up to you and nobody else.
Treat this just as you would any other aspect of home security and always keep the well-being of your family at the forefront.
IoT Security | Tech Target
Home of IoT Security | IoT Security Foundation
Smart Home Definition | Investopedia