Our digital home lives are becoming increasingly more complicated. There are now 8.4 billion devices in the UK that connect to a home network and which together make up the Internet of Things (IoT). These devices could be something as obvious as a mobile phone or a laptop or a voice activated speaker. They could also be games consoles or smart fridges and smart energy meters. There is even technology now that has been used to create a smart hair brush that sends data about the way you’re brushing your hair to your phone so that you can learn how to do it better. According to the experts it’s the IoT – and our lack of understanding of it – that is causing problems when it comes to security.
Where do the issues arise?
Firstly, many people will purchase a “smart” device, such as a smart meter or a smart plant watering system, and not realise the extent to which this makes them vulnerable. Cyber criminals can use gadgets such as this to hack into a home network. From there it’s possible to go on to harvest other data, such as bank details and passport numbers, that can be used in identity theft. The second issue is a lack of understanding of the technology itself and the fact that it may well have a “use by” date.
What do the government security experts say?
The experts at the National Cyber Security centre have highlighted how important it is becoming for people to understand the risks from the IoT. They have introduced a Code of Practice that is designed to give people information on, in particular, how long it’s safe to keep using a device or gadget before it becomes a security risk (i.e. past its “use by” date). The obvious comparison is a mobile phone, which is frequently updated with new fixes and patches when vulnerabilities are discovered and then discarded for a new model when the technology becomes redundant. The idea of a use by date effectively suggests the same approach for other devices, from smart meters to smart fridges. Once they get beyond the point of no longer being supported by the manufacturer they are vulnerable to being hacked and consumers should move on.
Is the risk real?
Yes. According to the National Cyber Security centre it’s possible that cyber criminals have already been able to use hacked smart TVs with cameras to spy on people’s homes. The risk is very real and the cyber criminals are coming.
Best practice for digital home security
Make sure you know which devices in your home are connected. What does the IoT look like in your property?
Keep an inventory of purchase and “expiry” dates. Take the time to understand the shelf life of all the devices in your home and to make a note of when it might be time to consider an upgrade or simply replacing the device with something not connected.
Prioritise your router. Many people buy a home router, install it and then forget about it. An out of date router – or one where there is no security – is one of the easiest ways for cyber criminals to access your data. So, make sure you have noted the date for upgrading or renewing your router and that you know how to handle its security features.
Change the name of your Wi-Fi network. The default name settings give away a lot of information about you and the type of network you have.
Turn off your Wi-Fi network when it’s home alone. If you do this then you’re minimising the opportunity for hackers to get into it without anyone spotting what’s happening.
Consider where you place your wireless router. If it’s right in the centre of the property then it will not only ensure you get better signal in all the rooms but will also prevent anyone standing just outside from being able to get the signal.
Use Wi-Fi encryption. Encryption effectively scrambles the data that is being sent over the Wi-Fi connection so that it’s impossible to decipher to anyone who shouldn’t be looking at it. All Wi-Fi kit will support some sort of encryption, whether it’s WPA or WPA2.
Don’t disable your router’s security. Most routers today have a firewall built in and it’s important to make sure you don’t disable this if you want to have basic protection for your home network. You could also consider installing an additional level of security in the form of security software on each device connected to the router.
Alex Hartley is a keen advocate of improving personal finance skills. She's worked at Solution Loans since 2014 and written hundreds of articles about how people can manage their money better. Her interest in personal finance goes way back to...Read more about Alex Hartley