4 easy ways to make your smart home more secure

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I am a new homeowner and recently ventured into the local big box hardware store in search of my dream induction stove. As I was navigating a maze of gleaming appliances, a refrigerator with a built-in screen caught my eye. Aside from my initial confusion about the need for a screen and an Alexa connection on a device that only has one job, I was surprised to see that the fridge showed a security certificate error.

(Photo: Kim Key)

The error shown in the photo occurs when the common name of the site’s security certificate does not exactly match the domain. For example, if a website does not include a version of its name without the www in its certificate, you get an error when you try to access the website without it.

The refrigerator is probably in good condition and the certificate error is probably benign. Still, it’s important to remember that there are real privacy and security risks when bringing internet-connected devices into your home. I don’t intend to scare you away from creating a smart home by listing all the theoretical ways a hacker could break into your smart home devices and wreak havoc. Most hackers are on a mission to make money and collect data from their victims, without trying to annoy them by fiddling with the thermostat.


Trade your data and security for a cold beer

If you’re surfing the web using a VPN for privacy reasons, it’s time to disconnect your smart devices. As Malcolm Higgins of security firm NordVPN noted in a recent blog post, smart devices are data-gathering machines.(Opens in a new window). These devices monitor how and when you use them and send this information to advertisers or other companies.

There’s also the issue of maintaining basic home security when deciding which smart devices to bring into your living space. In recent years, hackers have discovered vulnerabilities in smart doorbell cameras, and researchers have noticed that smart speakers can be manipulated with lasers. Researchers also found they could compromise security systems with a smart plug. The conclusion here is that if something in your house is connected to the internet, someone can hack into it.


How to stay safe the smart way

Smart home privacy issues are serious, but you shouldn’t have to sacrifice convenience for security. Here are four things you can do to help make your smart home safer:

1. Read both professional reviews and user reviews of products before buying anything.

Have many people complained about their smart dishwasher screen showing DNS errors mid-cycle? If so, avoid that particular model or brand.

It is also useful to look at the history of the manufacturer. Smart devices are an emerging market and many new untested devices are hitting the market. Don’t give in to the hype and clever marketing! Let yourself be guided by professional reviews and user reviews.

At PCMag, we have a team of experienced professionals who test all the latest and greatest in smart home technology. Take a look at our picks for the best smart home devices.

2. Change the default password.

Many devices come with simple, easy-to-guess default passwords that are meant to be changed after the device is purchased. Don’t forget to change it! Make your new password long, strong, and hard to guess, and store it in a password manager.

3. Check privacy and security settings.

Sometimes you can limit the amount of data a device collects, stores, or transmits. You can also choose not to share some or all of your data with third-party advertisers. Browse the privacy and security settings to see what’s available. You should review these options not only for new devices, but also for those you’ve had for a while, in case new options have appeared through updates since you first purchased the product.

4. Check your router’s security settings.

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Most smart devices will use your router to connect, which leaves your smart home data open to view if a hacker breaks into your router. Strengthen the security of your router by changing the login code and using a long, complex and unique password.

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What else is going on in the security world this week?

Mullvad VPN removes the ability to create new subscriptions. One-time payments offer the most privacy, so Mullvad makes this the only option.

Capital One Hacker found guilty of 7 federal crimes. Paige Thompson stole the personal data of over 100 million Capital One customers and installed cryptocurrency mining software on hacked servers for her benefit.

The United States is shutting down a massive botnet posing as a proxy service. The Justice Department said the Russian-controlled RSocks botnet involved millions of compromised devices around the world.

WTF? Do I have to pay for Microsoft Defender Antivirus now? A recent Microsoft announcement has users panicking with the implication that Microsoft’s venerable antivirus tool is no longer free. The truth is a bit more nuanced.

Telegram founder Pavel Durov owes me a million dollars. Max Eddy breaks down his public beef with Pavel Durov, and why he continues to recommend Signal for secure communication.

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