Here Is How to Fend Off a Hijacking of Home Devices


MODERN homes today are getting internet-connected light bulbs, thermostats, TVs and speakers. So with a simple voice command or the touch of a button on our smartphones, we can set the temperature, turn on a light or prepare the TV to record a program.

What could go wrong?

A lot more than most people are prepared for, it turns out. If one of these devices gets hijacked, hackers could potentially snoop around for sensitive data like financial or health information. Or they could use a network of compromised devices to perform a widespread attack that takes down major websites, which is what happened last October.

The good news is that so far, online attacks on home devices are relatively uncommon. Only 10 percent of American consumers said they were victims of the crime in a recent study done for the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company. However, those who experienced such an attack through their home gadgets reported losses of $1,000 to $5,000 from the incidents.

“There’s still this whole sort of, ‘Gee whiz, it’s so cool’ thing that’s going on” with internet-connected home appliances, said Lee Tien, a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on digital rights. “That’s also what often gets us into trouble.”

As smart home devices become more popular, they will become bigger targets for hackers. So it behooves us to get ahead of the curve by securing our home appliances, using these tips from security experts who have closely studied smart home accessories.

Research Before You Buy

When shopping for an internet-connected home device like a smart speaker, lighting system or television set, a good rule of thumb is to go with a trusted brand.

Larger, well-regarded companies like Amazon or Google have a background in developing products with security in mind, said Liviu Arsene, an analyst for Bitdefender, which sells security hardware for protecting smart home accessories. Before buying a product, consumers should do a web search on it to see if the company regularly issues software updates that fix security vulnerabilities, he said.

People should also carefully read company privacy policies. David Britton, a vice president in the fraud and identity department of Experian, the credit reporting agency, said people should be curious about whether companies themselves were a threat to user privacy.



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Author: Brian X. Chen