Spies in Your Home? 5 Ways to Protect Your Security and Privacy

Spies in Your Home? 5 Ways to Protect Your Security and Privacy

Wow! This is incredible.... I’ve heard this before, but doing a deeper dive into this subject, I was shocked to learn this stuff. I mean, really? Could my TV, as well as my devices, be spying on me? Well, Kiplinger's Personal Finance interviewed Jeremiah Grossman, Chief of Security Strategy for cybersecurity firm Sentinel One. Here are some excerpts from that interview:

From TVs to thermostats to light bulbs, more and more devices have Wi-Fi capability. Are they vulnerable to hacking?  A "smart" device is a tiny, internet-connected computer with a narrower purpose than a laptop or PC. An iPhone, for example, is not a phone — it's a computer that happens to have a phone app on it. Anything connected to the internet is at risk of being hacked. As these devices become widespread, they create more points of entry for bad guys. If crooks hack your smart TV, they may or may not be able to monitor your activity through it — but they could potentially use it as a stepping-stone to attack or surveil other devices on the same network. 

Do these gadgets come with security protections?  Many manufacturers have an incentive to create the cheapest products they can, so they sacrifice security. And when consumers buy, say, a baby monitor, they're not necessarily looking for security. They want the right features at the lowest price. 

Has there been a major attack?  [In 2016], hackers commandeered internet-connected video recording gadgets, such as baby monitors and home security cameras, to send a massive amount of traffic to popular websites, causing outages. The perpetrators weren't particularly interested in the devices themselves, but that's not to say they couldn't have monitored them or stolen video files. There haven't been many other compromises of home devices yet, but it's going to become a bigger problem. 

What information are smart devices legally collecting?  Amazon Echo and Google Home are voice activated. They capture and record conversations within listening range of the microphone and send that data to the cloud for storage and analysis. Health-and-fitness related devices, such as the Apple Watch and Fitbit, gather and store information about our biorhythms. 

So, with all these useful devices around you, how can you guard your security and privacy? Here are UWM’s five key takeaways and tips: 

  1. When you get a new device, immediately change the default password.  
    I know it’s a pain in the you–know-what to remember a whole bunch of passwords, but it will definitely protect you against any hacks. Consider using a password manager tool to help keep track of them.
     
  2. Be sure to update passwords for software programs periodically as well.  
    Some programs will systematically ping you with alerts to change your password, but some don’t. Be especially careful about updating your password(s) for accessing your email.
     
  3. Keep your software up-to-date.  
    Don’t ignore alerts to update your software programs when prompted — whether it’s for your Apple Watch, smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer. These updates not only upgrade the functionality of your software, they also refresh and address any software patches or security gaps.
     
  4. Set your devices to the most secure, privacy-protecting options available, and disable any features you don't use.  
    You can take this a step further: many home routers allow you to set up two networks, so you can have your devices on one network and PCs or laptops on another.
     
  5. Be mindful of that fact that apps on your devices, especially your smartphone, do have the ability to track your location.  
    What?  Well, yeah, of course. If you're using something like the AMC Theatre app to look for movies at the nearest location, they do need to know where you are. The key is to keep it under your control. Go into your smartphone, find the app, click on "Location" and — voilà!  You should have the option to allow "Location" access "Never," "While Using the App," or "Always." You should do this with all apps on your devices to make sure you're only giving out your location when you want to.
     

Tech devices are embedded in our lives, and that’s not going to change. So it’s important that you don't leave the door open to someone else who’s interested in following you in real time... and I’m not talking about following you on Facebook! Be aware, and stay aware.