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Guidry: Tips on securing the Internet of Things

Do you have smart home devices that connect to the internet? Perhaps you have a WiFi thermostat, an app-based home security system or even smart toys for your kids. But if you don’t take steps to lock down the online security of these devices, they can be used to wreak havoc on your network as well as the internet at large.

Collectively, we refer to everyday objects with online capabilities as the “Internet of Things.” Unfortunately many of these smart devices, by default, are not well-secured. This is creating a wave of vulnerable systems that can be used to hack other computers. Imagine thousands of mass-controlled machines hijacking networks and spewing malware.

There are many questions about the security and privacy of the Internet of Things, yet companies keep pumping out more gadgets without offering consumers much information about how to protect themselves. Here’s what you need to know as the owner of smart technology.

Before buying a smart device, check for recalls, data breaches or other problems. Don’t buy from companies that haven’t committed to protecting their users. Look for companies that provide easy-to-understand information and that are proactive if problems occur. Communicate with vendors and tell them you, as a consumer, care about the security capabilities of the products you buy.

Also before you buy, evaluate the device’s settings to see if they can be changed. Some devices ship with insecure settings and no way to reconfigure them. In general, security experts recommend granting minimal access, no more than the device or app requires to perform its function.

Reconsider anything that insists upon more, especially if it wants full access to your calendar, contacts and/or social media accounts. You may want the functionality that such access provides, but you should make the conscious decision to enable or disable it rather than simply selecting the default settings (which often amount to “enable everything and then some”).

When configuring a smart device, immediately change the default passwords. This is one of the most important things you can do to secure your device. Change the remaining default settings as appropriate, using your manufacturer’s documentation as a guide. Check for software updates, and make sure you are using the latest version for your device.

In addition to securing your smart device, you need to secure your network. Most routers these days have built-in firewall capabilities. Check to see whether yours are enabled and appropriately configured to keep snoops away from your smart technology.

Change default router passwords and check network security settings. Configure wireless networks with appropriate encryption and filtering. Your router may have the ability to set up a separate network you can use for your smart devices. Never use smart devices on public or insecure networks, and don’t let guests use the same network as your smart devices.

Securing the Internet of Things isn’t a one-time event. You’ll need to install any security updates that are released in the future and continue to monitor your smart devices’ settings. If you register your products with their manufacturers, you should receive update notices and other relevant information.

• Triona Guidry is a freelance writer and computer specialist. Her Tech Tips blog offers tech support advice for Windows and Mac.

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