With more and more of us working from home, as well as adding to our collection of Wi-Fi gadgets, it’s time to consider hack-proofing your home.
You don’t need a hacker to be sitting outside your home, or a neighbor trying to log on to your network for your Wi-Fi setup to be vulnerable to attack, as we used to think.
These days, scammers and hackers use all sorts of tactics and equipment to get on board your home network and wreak havoc — whether they’re spying via home security cameras, logging on to your smart TV, or simply accessing your computers to steal confidential information.
Sometimes, they buy stolen log-on information on the black market, other times they guess your password, or use sophisticated technology that allows them to attack a system. Or they may break in via an unprotected smart home device that falls under the category of the Internet of Things (IoT).
Think they wouldn’t or couldn’t hack your smart fridge?
Says Professor Ralph Russo, who heads up information technology programs at Tulane University: “Your home can be a goldmine to hackers who are seeking to capture your banking password, your online accounts, and your personally identifiable information, and entering and establishing a beach-head through an IoT device can be the low-hanging fruit.”
Oftentimes too, users have no idea they’re victims, though they may have glimpsed clues, such as the slowing down of their PC or inexplicable activity in back accounts.
Hackers can even break into home alarm systems to disable them and burglarize.
Hack-proofing your home may seem like a complicated business. But a few key actions can help you eliminate or reduce most of the risks.
Here are 5 key steps you can take:
1. Install and regularly update your Internet security software. We always start with this because it’s by far the most effective safety action you can take. But make sure your software doesn’t just stop viruses. You also want one that sets up and manages a firewall, software that can prevent intruders breaking through.
A good product can intercept most current hack attacks. Which one to buy? All the leading names like Norton, Kaspersky, and McAfee come with good reputations and frequently change places at the top of the ‘best of’ table.
Beware if you’re researching this online, as some list operators order software according to who will pay them the best affiliate marketing fee for recommending them. Instead, try an independent review site like this: https://tinyurl.com/best-security-list
Let your software do its job automatically but, every now and then, run an all-system or deep scan that you usually have to start manually.
2. Use unique passwords on your system. That goes for your PC log-on, your router and anything else that calls for an access code. Never use the defaults that come with devices you buy, especially modems, routers, and alarm systems. Hackers know all of them. Then, of course, you should change passwords regularly, in case your current ones fall into the wrong hands.
3. Keep your systems up to date. Many hardware manufacturers, like those who make burglar alarms, routers, monitoring cameras (including those used in the nursery) and, of course, computers, regularly update their firmware (the intelligent chips built into them).
But they don’t automatically tell you. Most hardware, like routers, cameras, and home ‘assistants,’ have apps that enable you to access the way they work. Use these and select something like “check for updates.”
If you register your device with the maker when you first buy it, chances are high they will notify you of any updates. So, don’t pitch that registration card.
The same applies for software programs, which are frequently updated not just for new features but also to add in security modifications.
If you don’t know how to access these devices, check with the manufacturer’s website.
4. Disconnect from the Internet. If you have a home network that enables you to switch off Internet access, the rest of your network itself — that is, the parts inside your home — can remain active. If you’re not likely to be using the Internet for a while and you have this ability, use it.
However, be cautious. If you have a home security monitoring system or cameras, this may only work via the Internet. If you switch that off, your attempt at improving security will backfire.
But, even if you don’t want to switch off, you should consider unplugging devices that aren’t in use. And if you sell them, give them away, or toss them, always do a factory reset. Devices normally have a factory reset button. But if yours doesn’t and you don’t know how to reset, again check with the manufacturer’s website.
5. Replace outdated equipment. Devices manufactured say five years ago may not have adequate built-in security, even if you update the firmware. This is particularly the case with routers, which experts say should be replaced after five years.
And make sure your router is set to the highest security level (usually referred to in your router app as WPA2). Also, set up a separate guest network if you regularly have visitors who need to use your network. Check the manual or maker’s website for details on how to do this.
It’s probably never going to be possible to 100% hack-proof your home, but following these few simple steps will protect you from all but the most determined and expert hacker.