The Download: Feature Articles
Don't Let Hackers Take Over Your Smart Devices and Appliances
By Victoria Lubas | Last reviewed: Dec. 4: 2023
You wake up to the automated sunshine-yellow glow of your smart light bulbs and are greeted with Alexa's morning briefing. Everything's going great...until your carefully programmed morning routine comes to an abrupt halt because your cup of coffee is being held hostage as water pours on the heated burner and a devil emoji lights up the screen.
A hacked coffee maker is an extreme example, but your Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices are most likely not secure when fresh out of the box, making them one of the easiest and most common ways hackers can disrupt your life and steal your info.
Help protect your data—and morning java—by following these safety tips.
Buy Safe Tech
Before you buy a new connected device, research the privacy policies associated with it. Do they issue frequent security patches? Have they had any recent breaches? Once you decide on a device and bring it home, protect your data, and use discretion when allowing the device's permissions¹.
Secure Passwords Are Key
Now it's time to replace the default password with one that is new and unique. Everyone knows not to use the word "password" or some variation of it (here's looking at you "P@$$w0rd" offenders) as those are easily hackable. Secure passwords are at least eight characters long, with capital letters, special characters, and numbers. Definitely don't use personal identifiers that a quick Instagram stalk would reveal or commonly-used words that an automated password generator would come up with in milliseconds.
Secure Your Home Wi-Fi
Once you've safeguarded your devices, secure your home network by changing your router's password, since the pre-set name can hint toward the default password's format. It's also a good idea to set up a separate network for smart devices2, so that you protect your laptop, tablet, and any other devices from potential smart home security breaches.
Update, Restart, Replace
Is one of your devices acting odd? Is performance suddenly sluggish? Do you suspect it might have been hit with malware? If the manufacturer issues firmware updates and security patches, be sure to check for and install them. If performance is slow, try restarting or unplugging your always-on devices to clear up memory and eliminate unwanted network guests.
Many IoT devices cannot run malware protection software. If you suspect a device may be infected, disconnect it from your network and consult with the manufacturer. There may be a way to remedy a potential infection—but it may also be time to think about replacing the device with a newer, more secure model.
If you've followed these tips, your devices, data, and coffee will be better protected from hackers and ransomware.