Things Your Robot Vacuum Might Know About Your House
Your robot vacuum knows more about you and your household than you might think.
Your robot vacuum normally runs around your home without much of a fuss. Some people even name their robo vacs and feel like they are part of the family. It’s important to remember, though, that, like other smart devices around your home, robot vacuums are connected to the Internet—and can pose a security risk because of it.
While currently there is no evidence that anyone has maliciously hacked a robot vacuum, and there is no evidence that a manufacturer is selling data collected from your vacuum, there is the potential for problems.
Just about every robot vacuum maps your home as it cleans so it can progressively become more efficient at its job. This can be an issue. A map of the inside of your home can be very telling: from a simple map, someone could learn how big your house is, how much furniture you own, what kind of furniture you own, and more, according to Heinrich Long, privacy expert at Restore Privacy.
Why data collection matters
Data collected from your robo vac can be used in a lot of different ways. A map of your home can be important information for a hacker that plans on robbing you, for example. They can also get the GPS coordinates of your house. “If you have a Wi-Fi-connected Roomba it can definitely report back your home’s exact location,” said Burton Kelso, tech and cybersecurity expert.
Hackers, or the manufacturer, may also decide to sell the data they collect to an advertiser. Personal lifestyle information is a huge part of creating targeted ads. That can be a big breach of privacy.
Another problem is that hackers who gain access to your vacuum cleaner can blackmail you. Many vacuums now have cameras that hackers can access to video users in compromising situations. They may also threaten to publish the data they have collected about your apartment or home unless you pay their ransom, said David Balaban, a computer security researcher.
Hackers can also operate a vacuum cleaner. They may try to close doors or try to get in the way of walking children or dogs.
How you can stop data stealing
There are two ways your data can be collected and shared. A hacker can gain access to your robot vacuum’s app through malware on your phone and gather information or control the bot. The manufacturer also collects the information and can share or sell it to advertisers.
There are a few things you can do to prevent your data from being collected. One big tip multiple security experts shared with Reader’s Digest is that the best way to prevent manufacturers or hackers from collecting data is to use your vacuum offline. That means using the vacuum with just its remote control or the on-board buttons and not the app. This way, the robot is not connected to the Internet, and information can not be accessed. The problem with this is that the more useful features of your vacuum, like scheduling a cleaning, won’t be available anymore.
The easiest way to disconnect your vacuum from Wi-Fi is to do a factory reset. To disconnect a Roomba from Wi-Fi completely, for example, hold down the three buttons on your vacuum for 15 seconds. The process is different for each vacuum, so be sure to check the manual for the proper way to perform a factory reset.
There are some alternatives to completely disconnecting your robot vacuum from your Wi-Fi. “The best way to keep yourself safe and to avoid security attacks is to make sure that the vacuum’s software is regularly updated. This removes any bugs that may be exploited by hackers to gain access,” said Veronica Miller, cybersecurity expert at VPN overview. It won’t prevent the manufacturer from gathering data, but at least it will stop hackers.
You can typically do this by going to the vacuum’s app, opening the settings, and choosing the update option. For example, to update an iRobot, you would open the iRobot Home App and select “Settings,” then the “About (robot name)” option. If the robot has not been updated, you’ll see an option to request an update. If you’re not sure how to update your particular brand of robot vacuum, be sure to contact the manufacturer’s customer service department for instructions.
Also, be sure that your phone is malware-free to prevent hacks. Apps like Malwarebytes and Kaspersky Mobile Antivirus can make preventing and removing malware simple.
Finally, use different passwords for all of your smart home devices including your vacuum cleaner. Cybercriminals count on people using the same password for all of their online accounts. If one of your accounts gets hacked, the hacker can easily access your other accounts using that password. If you have a problem using different passwords for your online account use a password manager, such as the one built into your favorite web browser, or a program like LastPass that will store all of your online account passwords, advised Kelso. Also, make sure to make your password complex.
Unfortunately, robot vacuums aren’t the only surprising everyday things that can get hacked.