What is a smart home?
Have you heard of the Internet of Things (IoT for short) or of the smart devices that we use in our smart homes? All of the above refer to devices that can be connected to the internet to help them do their job. It is estimated that by the end of 2021 there will be 25 billion smart devices in the world which will include:
Light bulbs, solar panels, doorbells (with video), Alexa and Google smart speakers, washing machines, fridges, coffee makers, baby monitors, 3 pin plugs, lamps and lighting systems, smart watches, weighing scales (body), ovens, BBQs, home security, hoovers, beds, cameras/systems, home heating and cooling systems, hot tubs, sprinkler systems, lawn mowers, garage doors, gyms, gates, door locks, outside security lights.
Consider what data your smart devices collect
From the moment you get up, via your phone, you can check the baby monitor, switch on the coffee machine, check the contents of the fridge for breakfast, turn up the heating, turn on the radio, set the hoover off downstairs and so on.
What many people don’t realise is that many of these devices collect data about you, your usage and your movements. So, should your devices fall into the wrong hands, those details could in the very worst case, be used to steal your identity or even break into your home. A very sobering thought. However, it is worth stating that brands and products are becoming wiser to this and are constantly upgrading their security and improving how vulnerable their products are. But all the same, it’s worth considering that smart devices have a lot of details about your life, when you get up, when you go to bed, when you are in, when you are out, when you’ve set the lighting to ‘holiday mode’ and being able to operate your security gates and security system without your knowledge.
If you have questions about specialised smart home insurance contact our partner Partners&.
How cyber-secure are smart devices?
Older devices often have little security. While most modern IT systems are able to patch security flaws with regular updates, this wasn’t a priority when many IoT devices were designed, so they may have serious security flaws that a cyber-criminal can exploit.
You would be wise not to assume all devices are completely secure and instead take reasonable steps to protect yourself. You can read more about smart home security on the Government’s National Cyber Security Centre website.
Top tips for securing your smart home devices
So, we’ve identified that smart devices can putt you at risk – the next question is how to stop it? That’s a good question and the answer is long and drawn out.
Here are a few things you should be doing:
1. Keep your internet network and router protected
I’m going to make this simple so apologies if you know this already but it’s important to get the basics right.
You need to update the password on your router and change it regularly.
Imagine your router is like the gate at the entry to your drive. If we can stop criminals at the gate, we’ve got a good chance of stopping them getting into the house. So, step one. Change the password and make it a complex one. For instructions on how to change the password on your router click here: https://uk.pcmag.com/wireless-routers/83093/how-to-access-your-wi-fi-routers-settings
Best practice is also to set up multiple networks from your router. You want one for your work. One for the kids and, most importantly, one specifically for your smart devices. If the smart devices network gets hacked, at least your work domain isn’t on the same network. Smart devices use something called ‘Universal Plug’nPlay’ which allows other smart devices to ‘talk’ to each other, which a hacker can exploit using ‘Bots’. The Bot will get into every smart device you have and feed the information back to the hacker; weak security on one device will mean your entire home could be exposed. So set up different networks.
2. Set up Two Factor Authentication (2FA)
If your device gives you this option, take it. The chance of being hacked when you have this set up is remote.
3. Get more savvy with your password strength
The simple and quick step of using better passwords will help you tighten up your security.
Here’s a top tip for creating a great password. Take a line from a nursery rhyme, then take the first letter from each word in one line, use alternate capitals and lowercase letters, add in some random numbers and a few symbols: ?!#& and you have a password which will take a hacker 400 years to hack through using brute force. Use a password manager if you prefer.
MaryHadALittleLamb9820*% password is MhAlL9820*%
You’ve heard it before, but it is still true, never, ever use the same password twice and don’t fill out those fun quizzes on social media that ask you ‘Tell us 100 things we don’t know about you’ including where you were born, went to school, pet’s name and so on because the information may be harvested to crack your password.
- You need to change the password on your router (it will likely be set with a factory issued password – change it!) Use a password manager to ensure super-complex, hard-to-crack passwords.
- Make sure your computer/laptop and smart phone are encrypted and password protected. Lock the screens every time you leave them or set to automatically lock)
- Enable the firewall on your router – if it has one, if not get a new router with a firewall
- Use security software from a reputable source on computers and smartphones
- Update security patches – learn how to update these on routers as well as on your computer and smart phone – the older the system the easier it may be to hack, so buy new kit when you can
- Now look at every single individual smart device you have (via their app) and:
- Change the password (see above advice about password managers)
- Read the instruction manual so you know how to install security patches
- Have a long hard think about what devices you REALLY need connected every day
- Turn off Universal Plug & Play (UPnP) this allows the device to talk to other devices and you may forget you’ve enabled it.
- Check the apps linked to these devices – does it ask you for permission to ‘edit router settings?’ If so, beware this is a potential threat.
- Be aware that cloud storage for information and devices always carries some risk. Make sure you thoroughly understand the privacy settings and have taken all steps to secure your privacy and data.
What can Partners& do to help protect me or insure me?
As you can see, the issues highlighted above leave clients open to a myriad of problems, from identity theft to burglary, extortion, breach of confidential information, and compromised email accounts to name but a few.
We are working on a package to educate, guide and insure our clients on running a safe smart home.
By Matthew Clark, Insurance Adviser, Partners&
Partners& challenge the status quo by delivering insurance advice that makes a difference. Combining technical knowledge with service and intelligent use of technology, they offer clients the confidence and peace of mind that you are protected so with tailored recommendations that are right for you.