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4 Best Practices to Increase Your Smart Home IoT Security

Fabian Hinsenkamp
Host of the 100DaysofHardware Challenge, Start your journey into the fascinating world of electronics, Arduino & ioT!
Originally published at ・4 min read

Most people who are interested in smart home automation start very enthusiastically into their new hobby, automating as much as they can within their home.
Many are completely unaware of the cybersecurity risk they introduce to their homes, allowing cybercriminals to access their private space just by some clicks.

In this article, you get an idea about threads in home automation and four simple & effective best security practices, so you can build-out your home smarter without exposing you to additional risk!

Security Threads in Home Automation

Home automation has hit the mainstream market in recent years. Previously only a limited group of tech enthusiasts was enjoying the benefits of controlling their homes via their DIY automation systems. Now, we look at a young but fast-growing industry, which offers a wide range of consumer-graded devices like thermostats, televisions, smart locks, and lights. This fast evolution of the ecosystem is shaped by many new inexperienced vendors, vast user adoption and continuously changing technology. Consequently, this boom has drawn a lot of attention from cybercriminals and hackers. It's an ideal habitat for malicious intruders.

Most of these virtual intruders probably wouldn't empty your home right away, but the increasing amount of connected devices already makes you vulnerable against all kinds of threads. But, once you connect your projects to the web, you are exposed to pretty much any malicious user on the planet, interested in hijacking your devices.

Consequently, if you're learning about home automation and plan to build some DIY projects around the use case, you’ll want to invest some time to understand secure implications too.

Hence, we're going to unpack four easy but powerful precautions you can take to defend your DIY smart home ecosystem against cyber-attacks.

Simple & Effective Defence Practices

1. Secure your Router

It's common sense that locking your front door, or at least keeping it closed is a simple way to prevent intrusion, right? In cybersecurity, not securing your router, is like leaving your front door wide open while you are on holiday.

It's key to understand, that your router should be untouchable, as it connects all of your IoT devices. Here are some simple tips and tricks to get there.

Change the Router's Default Name

As a first step, change your router's default name. Usually, it's the model name given by the manufacturer. Knowing which hardware you use, gives cybercriminals a great advantage to gain access to your network as this makes it easy to exploit your model's vulnerabilities. So simply give your router a unique name that can’t be traced to you or your home address.

Generate a Complex Password

Another simple but powerful precaution is to generate a complex password that consists of uppercase, lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. The longer the password, the better. To make your life easier, consider using a password generator so your password is truly random.

Also, it's recommended to use a strong encryption protocol — like WPA2 instead of WPA or WEP. WPA2 encryption has the advantage to protect your Wi-Fi access points and also secures your network.

If available go even for the WPA3 protocol, it is the next revolution in router protection and leverages 128-bit encryption.

Use Multiple Passwords

Using different login credentials for every IoT device is another easy step to stop intruders from freely navigating through your system. With different passwords in place, even if one device is compromised, others remain unaffected.

To make it easier to create and manage and securely store your passwords consider using a password manager app. The only password you must remember the main keyword to access your app.

2. Set Up A Separate Network for IoT Devices

In general, it's important to keep control of your network. You always want to remain in total control over access and modification of your router and all linked smart home devices.

If you got a modern router you can start implementing this idea, by creating a guest network separate from your primary network. This way, your relatives, friends, and guests will all access a separate network that doesn’t tie to your IoT devices. That way, you protect your password from unnecessary exposure.

3. Ensure All Devices Are Always Up-To-Date

Keeping your devices' firmware always up-to-date helps to limit your risk of attack and ensures you got all available security patches available.
Unfortunately, many routers and IoT devices, do not update their corresponding apps automatically.
Best you create a list of all your devices to verify, which once you can make update automatically and which need your special care. Set yourself a reminder to check for updates for your devices that need manual updates. For the rest, always install updates right away.

4. Enable Two-Factor Authentication

To verify your identity, you get a one-time password (OTP) or a verification code sent to your smartphone or email address. That way, you make it harder for intruders, as they would need to gain access to those accounts first before they could get into your IoT devices.
Most commercial IoT devices have a built-in two-factor feature, if you build your project there are a couple of companies that offer 2FA as a service. Most of these solutions are easy to integrate and still affordable.

Hopefully, the best practices outlined above sharpened your awareness of cybersecurity and encourage you to take charge of your digital as you do for your analog security.

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