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How to Secure Your Apartment from the Internet of Things

Posted May 25, 2017

Any device that can connect to the Internet and/or another device is part of the Internet of Things. The obvious ones are computers, cell phones and tablets. You might also think of wearable technology, headphones, TVs and printers. Other IoT devices include smart-home devices, thermostats, coffee makers, washing machines and refrigerators. Even more connected devices include cars, heart monitors, farm animals or pets that have biochips, city transportation systems and power supply systems.

As the availability of Wi-Fi expands and the cost of devices goes down, more and more gadgets are connecting to the Internet of Things.

Timeline: Here’s How It’s Growing

  • 1990: Conference presenters control a toaster via the Internet.
  • 1991: The first webpage goes online.
  • 1993: The U.S. government allows civilians to use GPS.
  • 1994: Netscape is born.
  • 1995: Amazon and eBay start up. A total of 0.7% of all devices are connected to the Internet.
  • 1998: Google opens its first office.
  • 1999: The term “Internet of Things” is coined.
  • 2000: LG announces its first Internet refrigerator.
  • 2001: Napster is shut down.
  • 2002: 59% of the U.S. population uses the Internet.
  • 2003: Myspace is launched.
  • 2004: Facebook is launched.
  • 2005: YouTube is launched. A total of 15% of all devices are connected to the Internet.
  • 2007: Fitbit is launched.
  • 2008: More objects are connected to the Internet than people, and the Internet of Things is born.
  • 2009: 40th anniversary of the Internet.
  • 2010: Nest is founded.
  • 2014: Number of mobile devices and machines exceeds the world’s population.
  • 2015: 75% of all devices are connected to the Internet.
  • 2016: 50.1% of humans use the Internet.
  • 2020: It is projected that 80% of all new vehicles will have data connectivity.

What Types of Devices Are Connected?

Using 2015 data, the ratio of devices that are connected to the Internet is:

  • Mobile phones: 45.50%
  • Laptops: 22.72%
  • Desktops: 13.58%
  • Tablets: 9.48%
  • TVs: 3.94%
  • Smart meters: 1.82%
  • Security devices: 1.06%
  • Vehicles: 0.94%
  • Servers: 0.67%
  • Telemedicine devices: 0.29%

With so many connected devices, security risks are inevitable. In fact, 70% of Internet of Things devices have security vulnerabilities. And on average, there are 25 vulnerabilities per device.

What Has Been Hacked:

  • August 2013: Security researchers demonstrated hacking a smart TV.
  • March 2014: A jilted husband used his phone app to adjust the thermostat at the house his ex-wife shared with her new lover. He told the story in an Amazon product review. (Remember to change your passwords!)
  • August 2014: Nest is hacked during a security conference demonstration.
  • November 2014: 73,011 unsecured security camera locations in 256 countries that were using default usernames/passwords were being broadcast online.
  • February 2015: Smart TV manufacturer Samsung warned owners to be careful what they say in front of their TV.
  • September 2015: A security team reported that 8 out of 9 baby monitors got an F, and the other got a D-.
  • August 2016: In demonstrating a widespread security flaw, researchers were able to install ransomware on smart thermostats that demanded payment in order to use the thermostat.
  • August 2016: Security conference presenters demonstrated how 75% of smart locks can be easily hacked.
  • October 2016: Using malware-infected household appliances like universal remotes, DVRs and washing machines, a DDoS attack took down the Internet for most of the Eastern seaboard.

The number of hacks is staggering. Last year, 689 million people across 21 countries were affected by cybercrime. “Protecting the device itself is near impossible,” said a senior sales engineer at SilverSky. And so, experts recommend network-level security that protects all of your gadgets.

Let’s review what you can do to secure your apartment’s Internet of Things devices.

Apartment Security Starts With Your Router

Your router is the bridge between your personal network and the Internet. The first step is to not use the router that was provided by your Internet supplier, because it would have lower security. When buying a router, it’s important to note that newer routers are not necessarily more secure. Look for a router with multiple bands because it will decrease network congestion, a growing problem as the number of connected devices increases. Business-class routers have stronger security, but they lack some of the features of high-end consumer routers.

New additions on the market are routers that are designed for the smart home and its many connected devices. Examples like the Norton Core offer deep packet inspection for known malware, malicious traffic checks and device isolation if any abnormal activity is detected. It will even alert you via your phone if it detects unusual activity.

Make Sure Your Router Is Set Up Properly

Having the device is not enough — if you don’t set it up properly, your files will be exposed and people can eavesdrop on your online activities or even infect your system with viruses.

When accessing your router, use the browser in incognito or private mode so no cookies are left behind. Change your router’s admin username and use a strong password. Never allow your browser to save this username and password.

Change the network name. The default is usually your router’s brand name or model number, which makes it easier for a hacker to identify your vulnerabilities. Use WPA2 encryption and set the encryption type to AES. Use a strong password/network key. (This is a different password than the admin login password.)

Turn off WPS to prevent unauthorized pairing with your router. Disable wireless guest access so drive-by sniffers or nosy neighbors can’t poke around in your tech. Disable Universal Plug and Play (UPnP). Double up on firewalls by activating the router’s built-in firewall. Turn on HTTPS to access the router interface, and make sure to log out when you’re done.

And although it can be hard to remember, go into your router’s settings about once a month and check for firmware updates to plug any new security holes. This will protect you against known vulnerabilities that the company has identified.

Good Practices for IoT Security

Always be sure to use complex passwords. You want at least 12 characters that combine upper and lower cases, symbols and numbers. Don’t use family names or even dictionary words, and don’t repeat passwords across multiple devices or accounts. A helpful tip is to try using an easy-to-remember sentence as your keycode, like remembering the password “TfhIeliw613FS.Rw$4pm” with the sentance “The first house I ever lived in was 613 Fake Street. Rent was $400 per month.”

Stay on guard by using antivirus software and scanning regularly. Watch out for phishing attempts from malicious sources that try to con you into handing over your information. Even Mark Zuckerberg puts tape over his webcam when it’s not in use because a hacker can’t manipulate a physical barrier.

Segment your network to prevent a compromise in one area from affecting your whole network. Computers, printers, NAS and other computing devices should be grouped together, as these are likely to have personal and valuable information. The next segment would be for your Xbox, smart TV and other appliances. The third segment would be just for mobile devices. And a fourth segment would be a network for guests to use.

Connected Gadgets

Your network is only as secure as the least-secure device that’s connected to it. For example, a smart teakettle can be the pathway for someone to get access to your entire network. As you add more connected devices to your network, here’s some advice on how to maintain security.

Always change default settings, including the device ID. Regularly update the passwords on all devices, even your TV. Install updates on all your gadgets, including your thermostat, to take advantage of the newest security updates.

Don’t perform bank-related activities on a smart TV; use a secure smartphone or computer. Download Android-based security apps for your Android-based TV. Disconnect your smart TV and other devices from the Internet when not in use. Opt for a wired connection over a wireless one because it’s harder to compromise. Disable any unnecessary features.

It’s almost impossible to tell if your smart-home devices have been hacked, and most people wouldn’t know where to begin to look to check. One test is to run an Internet of Things scanner to see if any of your devices are publicly accessible.


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