Smart Home? Rest assured!

How to make your smart devices immune to attacks

Smart homes are trendy today. A smart home can make life within your own four walls safer and better. But don’t forget about security when buying and installing your devices, because otherwise cybercriminals can enter your house or apartment – despite your best intentions.

What a smart home can do

Smart home devices are a growth market. Day by day, the market sees new solutions that make our lives easier. The selection of solutions is also growing. As people like to say, there is something for every need and every budget, from affordable beginner sets for smart lighting available at low cost to systems that need their own wiring in your home.
Some of the typical devices are:

  • lighting systems;
  • heating controls, either central or through special thermostats;
  • control of housing technology such as shutters;
  • smart door locks that can be operated without a key;
  • safety sensors that set off an alarm in the event of breaking glass, smoke or flooding, or interior and external security cameras.

Often, the different solutions can be linked with one another on a network. For example, the heating and lights go on when an inhabitant approaches the home. Or the temperature in the rooms is set lower in winter when the last inhabitant has left an apartment.

Vulnerabilities to avoid

Smart device networking is not a matter to be taken lightly. Some solutions dispense with wiring and instead use encrypted wireless protocols or the wireless network (Wi-Fi) installed in the household. But if a lamp is to be switched on remotely using an app, there has to be a connection to the home network coming from the outside as well. This could mean a router that has not been correctly secured. If criminals use this route to hack into internal cameras, inhabitants may be letting themselves in for unintended surveillance.

The following could create a typically threatening scenario:

  • insufficiently protected wireless (Wi-Fi) networks;
  • software errors and security gaps in the software controls;
  • functions in the smart home elements that even the user does not know about.

The last item is particularly tricky because the user may have no idea that there is any threat. For example, if the manufacturer of a device has set up a support access but has not documented it, the user cannot do anything about this gap. This kind of access, which criminals are quite familiar with, also sometimes results from the fact that the manufacturer sells various versions of the same device. It would be too expensive to design and produce a control board for each individual model, so the affordable version also contains the hardware required for other functions – and an attacker can use them.

How to increase security in a smart home

  • Before choosing a solution, review test reports on the security of smart home devices. 
  • Read the provider’s data protection terms. How does it guarantee that you are the only one with access to your data?
  • If the device has a standard password or a PIN code, change it immediately after you start it. For example, if encryption is offered for the connection, enable it.
  • Enable the function for automatic updates if they are offered. Otherwise, search regularly for updates for your devices. That goes particularly for all security-related devices, such as cameras or door locks.
  • Change the default password of your router if you have not already done so. Its software should also be updated regularly.
  • Your smartphone is the control center for many solutions. If it falls into the wrong hands, the thief or finder could view the images on the surveillance camera, open your front door, or control other elements remotely. For this reason, you should secure your smartphone. Block access using a PIN code or pattern, and protect your device from viruses and other malware.
  • Use several networks. A criminal could also use a vulnerability in a device for your smartphone to access other systems in your home network. This can be prevented if smart home devices use a wireless connection of their own – one that cannot be accessed by any other computers – to communicate. For example, this can be achieved by using a guest network function. Or buy a second router that sets up its own wireless network for smart home devices and uses the internet connection of the first router. The second router then assumes the function of an access point, as it is known.

Further reading