Protecting Your Home and Data from Digital Snooping

Protecting Your Home and Data from Digital Snooping

Earlier this month, Wikileaks released over 8,000 documents detailing United States CIA hacking methods and policy. While these documents are still being analyzed by the technology community, it is clear that the documents detail some disturbing trends in home electronic surveillance. Even President Trump's own advisor believes that common household devices can be used to spy on you. Understandably, concerned citizens across the nation are wondering if they should be worried. It may be too early to hedge your bets against the CIA's best assurances that their tools aren't used domestically, but due diligence and some simple preventive actions can minimize your risk.

Cover My Webcam With Tape?

We've all seen the trope that 'Mark Zuckerberg' keeps a piece of tape over his webcam to prevent unauthorized access by hackers. This isn't because he thinks his network is prone to hacking--he simply knows that the ONLY way to prevent unauthorized viewing from his webcam is to essentially eliminate it. Hacks have become so pervasive that it is nearly a guarantee you have a piece of malicious code hiding somewhere in your house. Many of these viruses, trojans and other malware are now obsolete, no longer supported or simply forgotten.

Viruses in the Home

The security issue currently faced by the smart home industry is the result of its youth: budding technology without a clear security standard is very prone to exploitation. For example, consider this article from Fusion detailing how 8 of 9 internet-connected baby monitors were found to be 'trivially' hacked.

This is a result of baby product manufacturers diving into a market they are unfamiliar with. Although many devices are shipping 'internet-ready' by default, you don't necessarily want a crib maker in charge of your digital security. In one situation, a hacker successfully spoke to a strangers baby through a compromised baby monitor. These monitors connected to the Internet through an IP address rather than a web site (think 256.214.155.155), making it nearly impossible to accidentally find someones camera feed but very possible to deliberately target specific manufacturers and devices.

What Else is at Risk?

OK, compromised baby monitors are horrifying, but you don't have one in your house. What other devices are at risk? Essentially, any appliance or device that connects to the Internet or your home network via Bluetooth, WiFi or a network cable can be hacked. This could include smart fridges, microwaves or toasters, but more likely includes your smart TV, your Amazon Echo or Google Home, or your thermostat.

If any one device in your home is compromised, the network as a whole is at risk. These devices are all capable of communicating to your router or switch to receive instructions, so a hacker may have the ability to control your laptop, desktop or cell phone once the door has been opened into your network.

What Can I Do?

A good first start is to evaluate all the internet connected devices in your home. No, really. This is when you should walk through your home and find those small devices you forgot about like iPods, Nintendo handhelds and those tags you bought to find your keys easier. Once you know what you have, start taking the first measures to protect yourself. Cover your laptop webcam with a post-it note, unplug external USB devices such as webcams and microphones when not in use, shut down your devices when not in use, and do not leave devices connected to the network if you don't plan to use network connectivity. If you are concerned about your Echo or Home recording your voice, there is a mute button located on each device; however, you may not enjoy full functionality after doing so.

Next, make sure that each individual account you have for your connected products has a strong, unique password. Using a weak password forfeits the game before it even starts, and using the same password across all devices means that if one device is compromised due to bad firmware you won't have to worry about your entire home being hijacked.

Finally, do your research! As more and more devices come with built-in tablets and internet connectivity, it is important to first conduct your research about what products you put in your home. The best way to start would simply be to Google your product name plus the word 'security' and browse the results. Experts from corporations such as Microsoft and Symantec work tirelessly to protect you from these threats, so take advantage of their expertise!

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