Although the concerns expressed above may be unsettling – after all, who wants unknown individuals to be able to observe us while we watch television? – There are several straightforward measures we can take to mitigate the risks and safeguard our privacy.
1. Understand the product you are buying
Nowadays, conventional products are being transformed into “smart” devices, incorporating features like voice-activated controls or internet connectivity to receive software updates.
It’s worth noting that even seemingly ordinary items may possess unexpected “smart” capabilities or features. For example, some televisions have front-facing cameras or microphones for voice activation, and certain children’s toys have internet connectivity that you may not expect.
Regrettably, in today’s world, many devices are equipped with “smart” features by default, regardless of whether we desire them or not. Therefore, it’s crucial to conduct thorough research before making a purchase. Be sure to check for labels such as “smart technology,” “interactive” features, or being “internet enabled.”
2. Do your homework
If you’re contemplating purchasing a product that has internet connectivity, it can be wise to conduct an internet search to determine whether there are any known issues with the product. Search for the name of the item (if it consists of several words, enclose it in quotes) and include terms such as “vulnerability” or “privacy issue.” For instance:
3. Searching online for security issues
The developers of the widely-used Firefox web browser maintain an informative catalogue of various common smart home devices, outlining each product’s capabilities, such as a built-in camera or microphone.
At the moment, there are no universally recognized certifications to identify secure smart devices, but various initiatives are underway to establish such standards.
4. Secure your devices and home WiFi network
Poorly secured smart buildings pose a risk by giving attackers easy access to your WiFi network. This is why it is crucial that smart devices are protected.
To prevent this, you can take the following steps:
How to ensure that your home wifi network is set up securely:
Change all default passwords on the devices and any linked online accounts offered by the manufacturers.
Keep all smart devices updated as much as possible. To do this, follow the instructions provided by the device’s manufacturer.
For an added layer of security, you may consider running all your smart home devices on a separate WiFi network from your computer(s). Although not feasible for everyone, some WiFi routers enable you to create multiple networks without requiring a second internet connection. You can ask a tech-savvy friend or consult your router’s manual to see if this feature is available.
5. Disable the features you don’t need
Smart gadgets often come with features that may not be necessary or useful for your needs. To reduce potential attack surfaces, consider disabling any features that you don’t need. Some devices may require you to use a connected smartphone app to adjust settings, so refer to the device’s instruction manual for guidance.
In some cases, disabling features on a smart gadget through traditional methods can be even more effective. For instance, if you don’t need the camera on your TV, consider covering it with a piece of tape .
Minimizing the amount of personal information each device collects about you and limiting the number of devices that can communicate with each other can help reduce the potential security and privacy risks. If your devices can interact with each other, it’s important to be cautious about which ones you connect together. For instance, only connect your weighing scales to Alexa if you’re comfortable with Amazon knowing your weight.
In addition to disabling specific features, turning off a smart gadget when it’s not in use can further enhance its security and privacy. For example, both Alexa and Google smart speakers have a button that allows you to turn off the listening function, which can be useful when having sensitive conversations nearby.
6. Don’t forget any connected online services
Keep in mind that most smart devices come with linked online accounts, which can be a potential entry point for hackers. These accounts are often used to access features like the ability to view CCTV images remotely or to modify settings. Therefore, it’s essential to carefully review what online services each device comes with and take steps to secure those accounts. This means that you need to create strong, unique passwords for each account, and review the account settings regularly.
If you use Google or Alexa smart speakers, you can access your past recordings through your Google or Amazon account. It is a good practice to regularly review and delete old recordings to reduce the risk of a privacy breach. However, do note that deleting past recordings may also cause the device to forget some of your preferences.