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Most vulnerable rooms in your smart house: How hackers can sneak a peek on you and your family

Home automation continues to expand—U.S. consumers alone spent $23.5 billion on smart home technology in 2019. This tech generally makes life easier for homeowners via automation of things like security, lighting, and music. It can be cost-effective, too. On average, smart home products save owners nearly $100 per month.

While the Internet of Things (IoT) has offered plenty of convenience for home owners through these devices, they’re also more susceptible to hackers. Vendors may manufacture these devices without knowledge of how to securely connect them to the internet, or they may skip security steps that could be viewed as a hassle during installation. Similarly, since the home is supposed to be a sanctuary and a safe place, homeowners often don’t consider securing all their devices.

That lack of security can lead to some wild events. A Wisconsin couple had their thermostat raised to 90 degrees while their hacker talked to them and played vulgar music through a Nest camera in their kitchen. Another hacker claimed he was in the room of a 4-month-old baby. Even the FBI has warned against smart TV hacks.

How, then, can you work to prevent these kinds of attacks? Let’s take a look at the seven most vulnerable rooms in your smart home—and what you can do to protect them.

Jump to our infographic for a full look at your vulnerable devices. 

Front porch/foyer

The front porch is an especially vulnerable part of your house because they’re the most easily accessible. A hacker can spot security cameras, floodlights, doorbells, and smart locks from afar.

In fact, security cameras are the most vulnerable smart devices, making up a whopping 47 percent of overall hacking attempts. Hackers access the camera’s footage, giving them a real-time view of your home. They can then use the camera to see where things are located in your house—and when you’re not at home. Security cameras are often tied to a home security system; having access to the cameras makes it easier to disable the entire system.

 

How to make your front porch devices safer

Use two-factor authentication for your smart doorbell and security systems. This will prompt you to enter a code or scan your fingerprint in order to enter. For smart locks, you can use temporary codes while you’re out of town. That way, you can still let in a guest to watch your pet or check on your plants, but your main password will remain secure. Finally, be sure to update your devices’ firmware regularly to fix known bugs and vulnerabilities.

 

Home office

Your home office is another vulnerable spot because it likely contains multiple points of entry. You probably have a computer, a modem and router. You may also have another laptop, a smart printer or all-in-one copier and scanner.

Many office devices have built-in security measures. However, they’re still vulnerable to hackers, whether they’re accessing your data via Wi-Fi or by sending you a virus.

 

How to make your home office safer

Use a strong password and offer a separate Wi-Fi login for guests. Be smart about what you click on, too—if you don’t recognize an email address or you receive a link with no context, don’t open it.

 

Living room

Your living room is a hotspot for hackers because of its sheer number of “always on” devices. From smart TVs, speakers, and plugs to smart vacuums (like Roomba) and thermostats (like Nest), someone can gain access even when you’re not using a device. Many newer TVs use facial recognition and can record audio, too, making your conversations susceptible

And remember the Target hack from 2013? The hackers entered through the store’s heating and cooling system, grabbing information for more than 40 million credit and debit cards.

 

How to make your living room safer

These “always on” devices are convenient, but can be a dream for hackers. You can adjust the settings to restrict or remove this function from a device, enabling them only at certain times. Consider restricting devices with voice integrations, too, since someone could access them from outside your house.

 

Kid’s room

Baby monitors and soothers have become more advanced; so too have smart toys, which include tablets designed for children. Unfortunately, this opens up additional vulnerabilities, like viruses from apps, stolen credit card information, and verbal harassment through monitors or cameras.

 

How to make your kid’s room safer

Kids often don’t have the wherewithal to monitor potential security issues, so take the responsibility out of their hands. Require approval for the download of apps or purchase of products, and keep an eye on anything unrecognizable that appears on these devices.

 

Bedroom

Your bedroom may have some of the same devices as your living room, and thus, the same security concerns. 

You also may have a smartwatch or sleep monitor, an e-reader or tablet, a smart display, or smart blinds. Even your cell phone can be the target of a hack if it’s on Wi-Fi while you’re charging it.

 

How to make your bedroom safer

Check the privacy settings of any smart display, like a video chat or hub with a screen. You can turn off features that label any personal advertising or ad tracking, as well as voice and face recognition. Go a step further and check the privacy settings of each individual app you use on these devices. If you charge your phone while you sleep, turn off the Wi-Fi to remove that access point for a potential hacker.

 

Garage

In one episode of the show Freaks and Geeks (set in the year 1980), a character finds a garage door opener in his dad’s car. He drives all around town on his bike, clicking it at every door he sees in an attempt to find the owner.

Nowadays, garage door openers can do a lot more. You can monitor the entrance with video and audio, allow package deliveries via temporary access, and have your smartphone alert you if your door opens without your permission. 

That also means hackers can do more. If they’re able to access your garage door, they can likely get inside the rest of your house. At the least, your smart car will be vulnerable, and it’s probably paired with other smart devices, like your phone, laptop, or voice assistant.

 

How to make your garage safer

Much like the other street-facing smart devices, garage security starts with two-factor authentication. You’ll also want to use a strong password to access the device.

 

Kitchen

It might seem like your kitchen is free of hackable devices, but a smart refrigerator or oven begs to differ. Voice controls can be used to adjust settings on your devices, such as changing expiration dates or temperatures. Even coffee makers are hackable, though the consequences of them being compromised may be a bit less severe.


You might move a device into your kitchen, like if you’re cooking with Alexa. Or you may have a hub (such as the Amazon Echo Show) that pairs with a light switch to offer advanced lighting control. Hubs are common targets—comprising about 15% of all hacks—because they act as a gateway to other devices.

 

How to make your kitchen safer

A hacker can gain access to your Wi-Fi network through one of these devices, so consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to protect against attacks. Two-factor authentication is also a good idea whenever possible.

 

Despite its shortcomings, a smart house adds a lot of value to a home. A virtual attack on your smart devices is rare — even your insurance company knows that. In fact, many companies offer home insurance discounts if your home comes equipped with smart security. Take a little extra precaution when setting up your smart devices and your wallet will thank you in the long run. 

Infographic

The ZebraResource Center