“Smart home” means different things to different people. For some, it’s the convenience of an internet-connected television or the thermostat they control with a smartphone. For others, it refers to a comprehensive home setup where appliances and devices can be automatically and remotely controlled from anywhere with an internet connection using a mobile device. And for others still, it can mean anything in between.
In reality, there’s a fair amount of ambiguity when it comes to the general level of understanding and comprehension of smart homes and smart home devices. This information gap can leave many users vulnerable to unwanted cyber attacks by hackers or privacy intrusions from organizations—such as Facebook or Amazon—and other people via any number of the seemingly harmless devices inside one’s home.
Researchers in UNC Charlotte’s SmartHome Lab work to minimize the risks and vulnerabilities made possible by common household devices that would put an individual’s or a household’s data or privacy at risk.
Navigating the age of the smart home can be overwhelming, so in recognition of Cybersecurity Awareness Month, student and faculty experts working in the SmartHome Lab provide some practical advice based on their research to make you and your devices more secure:
THINK WHEN SHARING
Smart home devices allow homeowners to share in the care of their home with a variety of family and friends. Whether you’re allowing visitors to unlock the door, neighbors to monitor an alarm or friends to check on pets while you’re out of town, you want to ensure that only the people you want are able to access and control your smart home and its devices.
- When sharing your devices, don’t share your username and password with other people. Utilize the sharing settings of the device to grant only the access that’s needed.
- Consider what others can see and do with your device and data with the access you’ve granted. Verify with them what they can access and control when you do share.
Smart devices can contain a wealth of information. Take care of how smart home devices are disposed of or resold. They could still contain data you don’t want others to have access to.
Hackers employ a variety of methods to attack devices—malware is one example. Malware is software specifically designed to disrupt, damage or gain unauthorized access to a computer system. Researchers in the SmartHome Lab are investigating the types of malware and ways of mitigating such attacks. Simple steps you can take to limit possible attacks:
- Regularly update your smart home devices or turn on the auto-update feature. This will ensure any security updates are applied to your smart home devices frequently.
- If possible, put your smart home devices on a separate home network from the one used by your laptop and mobile phones—and guests.
- Change the default username and password of your devices, using a strong and unique password. Use two-factor authentications when possible as an added layer of security to prohibit hackers from remotely accessing your devices.
EVERYTHING’S GETTING SMARTER
The allure of smart devices is convenience. They allow us to perform tasks and solve problems more easily than without them. However, many smart devices operate via a companion app that runs on a mobile device that connects to and controls smart home devices. Researchers in the SmartHome Lab are examining the potential security and privacy issues associated with companion apps. They recommend:
- Regularly update companion apps to ensure they’re receiving security updates.
- Be aware of the permissions these apps are requesting and the data they’re collecting. For example, people may be unaware that some of these apps access your location, thereby allowing your location to be tracked even while not using the app.
Go through the device settings and disable (or turn off) the features you don’t need—such as turning off voice control if you’re not planning to use it.