How to Stay Safe from the Internet of Things

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If you are reading this, you are using the internet.

True story. And if you are using the internet, you have access somewhere either in your home, or through the coffee shop or at the library. If it’s in your home, or you use the coffee shop on a laptop or smart phone, we need to talk. If you are only using the library’s computers to access the internet and don’t own a computer or smart phone at all, you are exempt from this discussion. But, most of us need this reality check.

I live with a geek.

My hubby is a systems admin for a large company and his resposibilites include keeping many, many, many servers up and running. Those servers can be venerable to outside attacks, like hackers, so he has to stay on his toes with the latest technologies, security risks, and patches. (of course that means he almost never has a day off, but that’s another blog post) He lives by the computer, and our house is fully wired. You can see wires just about anywhere you look, really. I’ve learned to live with it, and appreciate the security he has put into place. What I want to share with you today is some security measures that many don’t even think about.

User names and passwords are a biggie with him.

A few years back, he made a show for some friends that their internet wasn’t really secure. “We use the password they gave us” was their response. That password, given to them by the cable company, was considered the default password. It took my hubby approximately 15 seconds to break into their home computer with his smart phone because they used the “default” password.

Once inside the computer, he could easily access banking records, passwords for other sites, etc. Lesson here: CHANGE THE PASSWORD ON YOUR ROUTER. Make it at least 10 digits long, and include uppercase, lowercase and symbols. Forget the “words”, especially those that are common and if you have issues remembering what it is, write it down (not in a smart phone, please) and save it someplace secure. Our oldest writes it on a piece of paper that is taped to the back of her monitor.

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Don’t make your user name and password universal.

That means you use a different user name and a different password for EACH site. No using the same one for facebook, twitter and such. Main reason being, if they can break your Facebook site, and you use the password for twitter, or amazon, or any other site, they can break those too.

If you have a hard time keeping up with all of them, like me, try a password “wallet” like Lastpass. It can also help you create passwords that are very secure and store them for you. All you have to remember is one main password to sign on to the site, and it’ll fill in the passwords for you. When you are logging off for the day, simply sign out of the site and it’s far more secure. The best part is that you can add an app to your smart phone to keep all those passwords secure as well.

Speaking of smartphones, the internet of things is a huge headache for my hubby.

We all want convenience in our lives, right? And, using smart phones helps. I could live without a laptop, or desktop, or TV, or books as long as I had my smartphone. It’s all in there. You can turn a crockpot on and off, control the temp in your home, or even hook up a security system with your smartphone. All done through an easy app that you download and connect to those devices. It sounds so wonderful, right?

Put the roast in the crockpot before you start the day, and turn it on when you want to, even away from home. Check on your babysitter via cameras in the home that you have connected to an app on your smartphone. No worries!

Except there ARE worries.

Each time you connect an app from your phone to an item in your home you are basically “punching a hole” in your internet firewall. Little by little, those holes can lead to big issues. Let’s take the crockpot.

You connect your crockpot to an app, and there is a tiny hole in your home firewall. User name and password is secure and the security patches up to date. But, 6 months down the line, you haven’t changed the user name or password (why would you, right?) and you haven’t checked for any security updates. As little as 3 years later, the crockpot is still going strong, but the company is no longer supporting that type of system and the updates are gone.

That means that it’s venerable to outside attacks. Now, multiply that issue times the number of wireless items you have in your home-security cameras, thermostats, locks, even the fridge or oven. Most of us wouldn’t remember to check for updates, or even think about it. It’s just a crockpot, right?

You think that a crockpot is nothing?

Not to a hacker. Once they get in, even through something as small as that crockpot, it’s just a matter of time before they can access your entire system. It’s already possible for someone will be able to hack smart cars, and even control those entire systems. Get a vindictive person who hacks you, and it could be disastrous.

If you feel you MUST have those items in your life, there ARE some ways to keep you safer.

First, get a calender or reminder out. From the day you download that app and connect the item, every 30 days you need to check for security updates. Every 3-4 months, change the password. Mark those on a calendar so you don’t forget. Oh, put it on PAPER, not your smartphone. And, do this until you no longer have that item in your home. Once the security updates are no longer being done, you probably shouldn’t use that item in your home any longer. At the very least, disconnect it and remove the app and don’t use it wirelessly.

The next thing you can do to keep yourself more secure is to NOT share passwords.

That sounds really elementary, right? But, as my friend finally understood, even sharing it with a trusted neighbor can leave you venerable. If you have guests that want to use your wi-fi, then change the password when they are gone. Don’t leave any holes they may have created open. We wound up having to hide our internet when we discovered our neighbor had logged on when spending the night with our daughter, and was able to continue using it at her house. Normally not a big deal, but leaving yourself open like that isn’t a good idea. At all. Change the password.

Keep yourself safe while surfing the Net.

Remember that little things can add up, and user names and passwords are important! Keep the unique, and change them often. Keep the internet of “things” to a minimum, and keep up with the security updates, and your identity will be far safer!

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5 thoughts on “How to Stay Safe from the Internet of Things”

  1. Sarah @Nature's Nurture

    Great reminder! I’m married to a geek too, haha. Except he’s on the coding side of things, but super careful about these things, nonetheless! We’re constantly keeping tabs on our passwords and changing them up (it’s become a headache at this point for me, lol), but we now use 1Password, which is awesome. Couldn’t live without it!

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