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4 Steps to Make Your Smart Home More Security Smart

“IoT” is an acronym for the “Internet of Things.” And any device that can connect to the Internet and transmit or receive data can be considered a “smart” thing. That includes smart homes, also known as connected homes.

Smart homes — in which IoT devices such as thermostats or ovens can be programmed from anywhere — are popular with consumers who seek convenience. Some people, however, may not realize the connected devices or appliances they’ve grown to depend on could leak private information or be susceptible to hackers. In the rush to get products to market, smart device makers may not see security as a priority. However, recent studies indicate they should if they want consumers to continue buying.

In January 2016, Accenture reported that 47% of consumers said privacy risks or security concerns were reasons they wouldn’t buy smart things. Of consumers who had bought IoT devices, 18% returned them until they felt more secure that their sensitive information couldn’t be hacked.

“People buy from brands they trust because they assume security is built in,” says Brian Witten, Senior Director of IoT Security for Symantec. However, more often than not, that assumption is incorrect. Although some smart device makers build in basic security measures — like password encryption — not all do. This means that, for now, the best way to make sure your smart home is security smart is to take matters into your own hands.

How to Help Secure Your Smart Home

1. Secure your network. Smart things need to connect to the Internet, and most of us use Wi-Fi for that. If your home Wi-Fi network isn’t secure, then your private information isn’t either. Be sure to turn on Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA2) encryption protocol when setting up your Wi-Fi, and use a router that offers firewall protection whenever possible. While you’re at it, change the preset username and password. You can typically learn how to do this by going to your provider’s website and doing a search for “how to change Wi-Fi password.”

Depending on your Wi-Fi gateway, you may also be able to create multiple network identities. Think about which devices you use to transact. If you shop and bank online, you could create one network for the devices you use to transact and another for smart devices, which may have more vulnerabilities.

2. Know your devices. Make sure you understand what capabilities your smart devices have. You may not be comfortable with all of them. For example, some smart TVs are able to listen to your conversations. Disable these features to suit your comfort levels, usually by going to the Settings menu. Also, modify the privacy and security settings according to your needs. And be sure to install updates when you receive notifications.

3. Install security software. Internet security software may not work with all smart devices, but it does with the most important ones: your PC, Mac, smartphone, and tablet. Many trusted computer security companies make software that can protect multiple devices, including your smartphone. Even when your Wi-Fi network is secure, it won’t be able to protect you from the types of malware that could infect your computers. Use security software, and be sure to update to the latest versions promptly whenever you receive notifications. These updates are often released in response to major online threats that require software companies to issue patches.

4. Secure your smartphone. It goes without saying that you should already be using strong passwords on all your devices. Even so, many people still do not use passcodes to lock their smartphones — 33%, according to the Norton Cybersecurity Insights Report. Almost all IoT devices are controlled by a smartphone app, so mobile phones have become key entry points to our smart households — and in the case of smart locks, they’re actually the keys to our physical homes. Imagine if your un-password-protected smartphone fell into the wrong hands and you hadn’t logged out of the app that unlocks your front door.

So it's more critical than ever to keep smartphones secure. Before purchasing products or installing apps, even those to control your connected home, read the Privacy Policy to see what types of data the app will access from your smartphone, what data it will collect, and what will be done with that data.

The Future of Your Connected Home

Until somebody figures out a way to control security for all of the vulnerabilities in your connected home, it’s up to you to decide how security smart your smart home should be. You needn’t think you’ll be alone in trying to navigate this space, however. By 2020, Gartner predicts there will be 25 billion IoT devices in use around the world — and most will likely be in smart homes. The sooner you start to take control of the security of your connected home, the better positioned you’ll be to make intelligent choices in the future as you add devices to your smart domain.