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7 Ways Smart Home Devices Could Work Against You

Smart devices such as thermostats, baby monitors, and locks are becoming more common in American homes. But are they safe?

Smiling pretty woman in sweater using tablet computer while sitting on a windowsill at homeDean Drobot/Shutterstock

By 2020, analysts predict we’ll be using 20.4 billion smart devices in our homes, everyday objects that can talk to each other via the Internet and store and receive data. But with the promises of increased interconnectivity and ease have come security breaches that have compromised the safety of those devices in the most private of places: where we live.

“It’s a concern because oftentimes these are devices that are meant to help keep you safe,” says Gabe Turner, an attorney with Security Baron. “And they seem to be doing the opposite.” Here’s how smart home devices can go wrong, and what you can do about it.

The closeup baby monitor for security of the babySaklakova/shutterstock

Baby monitors

Parents in Washington state were using a baby monitor to keep tabs on their three-year-old son, HuffPost reported. Then they heard a hacker’s voice through the monitor say: “Wake up little boy. Daddy’s looking for you.” In Texas, another set of parents also heard a hacker’s voice through their baby monitor. And a family in Indiana heard the Police song, “Every Breath You Take.”

In April 2017, though, the Z-Wave Alliance, the group that makes the technology that underlies many of these devices talking to each other, released a new protocol called S2 Security. “It has very much changed the landscape of how easy it is to get into the devices themselves,” Turner says. “But there are still things people should be doing to prevent the hacking of their home security system.” Don't worry about all of your devices–these are worth every penny.

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Thermostats

Arjun and Jessica Sud, an Illinois couple with a then-seven-month-old, also heard a hacker’s voice through their baby monitor and security camera, the Detroit News reported. The couple also used a Nest thermostat, which was cranked up to 90 degrees. Other users of Nest, which is owned by Google, reported similar incidents. There have also been cases of domestic abusers who have continued to use smart technology after moving out of the home, changing locks and hiking the thermostats, the New York Times reported. A good way to start protecting your systems is to change your password often and make sure you have a long, unique, and complicated password, Turner says.

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Digital assistants

In 2017, a six-year-old girl in Dallas was telling Amazon’s personal assistant “Alexa” how much she loved dollhouses and sugar cookies. A few days later, they materialized on her family’s doorstep, CBS News reported. To make sure it didn’t happen again, her parents activated the parental controls and instituted a four-digit passcode for purchases. Find out the smart home device Americans trust the least.

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Security cameras

Laura Lyons was making food one Sunday when she heard something terrifying through her Nest security camera: missiles from North Korea were headed to Los Angeles, the San Jose Mercury News reported. A company spokesman recommended two-factor verification to guard against future security breaches. That means you put in your password, but you also need another code sent to your phone to get into the system. Google recommends that people set up two-factor verification for their Gmail accounts. “Because once they get into one of your accounts, it can facilitate getting into other accounts,” Turner says.

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Light bulbs

Researchers from William and Mary say smart devices on popular platforms such as Nest, Samsung’s Smart Things, and Philips Hue are vulnerable because they’re all controlled by one central app. So even light bulbs and smart plugs can be hacked. Another tip? Get a password manager. Then find out 8 things in your home that could be spying on you.

Door electronic access control system machine. Finger print scan devices machine.Sompetch Khanakornpratip/shutterstock

Door locks

The potential for security breaches are sometimes detected by “good” hackers—such was the case with the Conexis L1 Smart Door Lock. According to Forbes, they discovered a vulnerability in the communications between the locks and the device that controlled the system. It would have allowed them to be intercepted and made it easier for someone to get inside. Another way you can protect yourself is to always allow the software and hardware updates on your devices. “It’s annoying that every time you’re on your iPhone you have to run these IOS updates,” Turner says. “But they’re ahead of the game.” Worried about security? Here are 10 smart places homeowners install security cameras.

alarm system homeGrzegorz_P/Shutterstock

Alarms

Security experts also demonstrated that the SimpliSafe alarm was vulnerable to hackers with basic skills, Forbes reported. More than 300,000 American households were using the alarm, but hackers could relatively easily harvest customer pins, the experts found. It’s often breaches of basic information like that that can leave people vulnerable. So be wary of your surroundings and don’t use public WiFi. “You don’t want people to be able to see you putting in that password,” Turner says. For maximum security, create a separate network solely for all the connected devices in your home. Then, read about the smart home devices that are worth every penny.