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6 Ways to Protect Your Smart Home Devices

The devices in your smart home may be vulnerable, but they don't have to be. We talked to cyber security experts to learn how people can protect their home from hackers

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Create Strong, Unique Passwords

Think of a hacker trying to access the smart devices in your home like a burglar scoping your neighborhood for a home to break into. What’s the easiest target? The one with the most obvious vulnerability and lax security.

No different here. Hackers, like burglars, seek the fastest, easiest systems to hack into.  Weak or default passwords are as enticing to hackers as an open front door to a burglar.

“They are attempting to gain access to any home that has a gap in security measures by exploiting the easiest, most common vulnerabilities, including devices with default passwords (or no passwords at all),” said Nick Turner, CPO of Echosec Systems.

Turner recommends creating passwords for your home devices with a random password generator. These impossible-to-guess passwords make things harder on hackers right off the bat. Most will move on.

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Woman Using Mobile Phone App To Authenthificate Bank TransferAndreyPopov/Getty Images

Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication, or 2FA, is a method of cyber security you’re likely familiar with. Any time you try to login to one of your accounts and you’re asked to confirm your identity through a verification link or a code sent to your phone, it’s 2FA.

“Two-factor authentication will keep the bad guys out,” said Patricia Vercillo, vice president of Smith Training Centre. “A second step, such as a one-time code sent to your mobile device, can make all the difference.”

While it might seem like overkill, two-factor authentication with strong passwords is like installing a door guard with a quality lock. Even if someone penetrates the first line of defense, 2FA provides another layer of security.

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Anti-Virus Protection

There are plenty of great anti-virus softwares on the market, including some robust free options. Unfortunately, most smart home devices lack the computing power to run dedicated anti-virus software.

But anti-virus protection works great for your tablets, laptops and PC’s. While not exactly “smart home” devices, they are still part of the same network and could provide as much or more access to your private information and accounts. Anti-virus software is essential to protect your home systems from malware that could lead to stolen data and financial information, as well as a host of other potential threats.

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Close-Up Of Wireless Router On Table At HomeKittichai Boonpong / EyeEm/Getty Images

Naming Your Networks

It’s common for people give their router’s wireless network a name based on personal information so they can easily recognize it as their own. But while setting up a WiFi network called “Steve H’s WiFi” might be convenient, it’s also a potential security risk.

“Don’t use the name of the manufacturer or your own name or street address,” said Vercillo.

Using easily-identifiable information gives cybercriminals an advantage. Once they know who’s running the network, they can attempt to guess the password or crack it through a manipulative method called social engineering.

Essentially, never broadcast personal information in any form, especially through something as central to your home’s cyber security as your WiFi network.

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Set Up a Home Router VPN

A VPN, or “virtual private network,” is a simple way to make your data more secure as it moves across the internet. A VPN creates a tunnel for your information, masking your IP address and keeping your data hidden from hackers, the government and even your internet service provider.

“A VPN uses security protocols to protect your identity online and adds encryption layers to the data transferring through the servers,” said Abdul Rehman of VPNranks.com. “It can be used on specific smart devices, or can be configured directly on your WiFi router to protect everything at once.”

While setting up a VPN on your home router might sound complicated, the process is actually fairly easy to follow. Express VPN, one of the premier VPN services, has a step-by-step guide here.

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Regularly Update Devices

One last, basic thing you can do to protect your smart home devices is to set their software to automatically update.

“There are a lot of firmware updates that are made available for almost every smart device out there for fixing bugs and vulnerabilities that are routinely detected,”  said Mathayi Abraham of RobotPoweredHome.com. “Therefore, it is important to always keep your device updated to ensure that your security is not compromised.”

Most smart devices feature an option in their settings to automatically update when not in use. Turn on this setting to keep your software current. This ensures any potential issues that could make you vulnerable are eliminated as quickly as they are discovered.