Hand holding a phone with apps to connect to several smart devices in a home

What You Should Know Before Buying Smart Devices

When “2001: A Space Odyssey” made its debut in 1968, the idea of a computer that could interact with us to serve our needs seemed like a far-off fantasy. In 1999, Disney Channel came out with a cheesy movie, aptly named “Smart House”, about a home programmed with AI to be a surrogate caretaker. The main plotline in both of these movies is ultimately that the AI grows ever more conscious and eventually decides to turn violent. While obviously it is highly unlikely that your Alexa will devise a way to kill you, that doesn’t mean that using smart devices in every situation is completely safe. We’ll discuss some of these dangers below.

Why You Should Be Cautious About Smart Devices

There’s a joke in the IT community that those with some or a fair amount of experience with computers will have Nest on their door, or Ring cameras throughout the house, smart lights, an Alexa in every room, a smart thermostat, electronic locks, tons of devices that can be controlled through Bluetooth, and many parts of their house equipped with smart equipment. IT professionals tend to know how dangerous all of these are and will stick with just a 2004 printer, control for media devices only through a protected Wi-Fi, and their trusted devices. Otherwise, they will completely avoid smart devices. While this is not always true, there is a level of truth to it.

One of the primary dangers associated with smart devices is that they can be externally controlled and accessed. This will represent different dangers depending on what specific type of tool it is that you are using. For example, something as seemingly innocuous as a smart utility system may transmit its network information unencrypted, or it may allow access to your general internet of things. The internet of things is all of the devices that you have in your house that are connected to each other and the network. While this can be very convenient, it can quickly turn into a nightmare if a hacker gains control of your connected devices.

How Hackers Can Take Advantage of Smart Devices

Some hacks can make use of access to any single device with network connection to gain access to your network. From that point, the vulnerability would come from the fact that there are attacks that only need access to your network to ultimately read packets sent to your router and potentially gain access to your computer. Once they can access your computer, they will be able to read all unencrypted information (and even some of the encrypted information), potentially gaining access to your laptops and planting a keylogger from there. Once that is done, it would be possible for the hacker to gather all your banking, social media, network, and personal identifiable information. This could all be used for purposes like ransomware, identity theft, data sales or for infecting and adding your computer to a botnet. 

A Real World Example

As an example, an ABC affiliate in Cleveland showed how easy this could be done. An ethical hacker that they hired used a discarded smart bulb to gain access to someone’s network passwords, allowing him to intercept data that the user sends to the router using a device that only cost $15. Using common passwords, he also gained access to another neighbor’s thermostat and smart utility system. Besides harassment, a professional thief monitoring this long enough could eventually find out when they had gone out of town and use that opportunity to execute a robbery.

Key Takeaways

Hopefully now you are aware of some of the dangers of using smart devices and other Bluetooth/Wi-Fi enabled tools in your home. While these devices can be convenient, they can present a golden opportunity for hackers to access your sensitive information. If you do end up buying smart devices, be sure to give each device a strong, unique password and make your home network as secure as possible. A little bit of precaution can go a long way towards lessening the danger these devices present.

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