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My Security System has a Microphone? Be Smart with Your Smart Home Devices
A person managing his smart home on his tablet

The Internet is everywhere and the Internet is doing more things for more people than ever before. For example, many residences now have Internet-connected speakers.  By just talking to the speaker, you can now perform such tasks as asking for recipes, learning the news of the day, or even playing some songs from your favorite band. 

The devices found in our apartments or houses are part of the “smart home” movement.  A “smart home” merely refers to a residence that contains devices that we can control from our phone or a computer via the Internet. Examples include household lights, garage door openers, televisions, home security cameras, baby monitors, refrigerators, and more!

Devices located in a “smart home” are part of the larger Internet of Things, which is also known as the IoT.  The IoT is simply all of the devices connected to the Internet and each other across all sectors, whether it be manufacturing, retail, or your home.

Although such “smart home” devices may make our lives better, device security can be an issue. Unauthorized persons can hack into your smart device, just like how they can hack into your computer.   Each device comes with an Internet address, much like your personal computer or laptop.  As a result, each smart device can be “broken into” and used to get to the important files that are stored on the computers in your home.

At the same time, such devices can pose privacy concerns as well.  Privacy in the context of smart home devices just means device manufacturers using your personal information only for purposes that you approve of.  An example would be your smart speaker recording your conversation with your spouse about your dog’s food and sending it to pet food manufacturers without your permission.

Google recently faced increased scrutiny as a result of a privacy issue concerning its Nest Secure home security system.  Nest Secure is a home security system that you can personally install that includes a hub and accessories such as door and window movement sensors.

However, owners of Nest Secure were not aware that the security system also had a microphone that could possibly record their conversations.  In fact, the microphone was never listed in Nest Secure’s owner’s manual nor was the microphone publicized by Google.  The company indicated that it was an “error” on its part and that the microphone was never turned on unless specifically done by the device owner.

Due to the explosive growth in the smart home sector, privacy concerns such as those found in Nest Secure device will continue to be in the news.  At the same time, keeping your devices secure from unauthorized access will also remain a problem.  Here are some tips to keep your devices safe and your information private:

Tips:

  • Think twice before you connect to the Internet.  It is a wonderful idea to connect your refrigerator or light fixture to the Internet.  However, just because the device can connect to the Internet, it doesn’t mean you want to hook it up.  Before you connect, evaluate which features of the device you would use and whether the Internet is necessary for those features to operate.
  • Create a separate network.  Many Wi-Fi routers allow you to set up a separate network for your smart home devices and another network for your important computers or mobile devices. You can do this yourself or you can hire a reputable IT company to set up the network instead.
  • Change your default password.  All of your smart home devices come with a default password.  You should change this default password for each device because the default password for every device is available to most anyone using the Internet, including cyber criminals.
  • Use strong passwords and use a different password for each device.  Adding to the tip above, use longer and stronger passwords or passphrases, thereby making your devices even more secure.  If you have multiple Internet-connected devices, use a different password or passphrase for each device.
  • Make sure your devices and any apps you use are updated regularly.  Just like your computer or smartphone, keep your smart home device and any apps you use on that device updated. Device manufacturers and app makers are constantly putting together updates that help make your device more secure. Make sure your app and device settings permit automatic security updates.
  • Read the fine print.  Your smart home device also contains default privacy settings.  Consider changing such settings as the default settings may really benefit the manufacturer more than they help you.
  • Turn off features you do not need.  Smart home devices come with a variety of features that are often enabled by default. If you do not need a certain feature such as remote access, turn it off.