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Guidry: Be smart about smart home security

Many people have smart home devices, but not everyone realizes that these devices are a prime target for hackers.

Here’s how to set up and maintain your smart home electronics to minimize the risks.

You may have heard the phrase “the internet of things,” abbreviated IoT. This refers to any common product that has internet capability, whether it’s your TV, your security camera, your doorbell or your thermostat.

Unfortunately, the default security is not always the best, and consumers don’t necessarily know how to lock down the settings.

This means IoT electronics can be used as cogs in botnets, or vast armies of commandeered devices used against larger targets.

One example is the Mirai botnet, which has been used to attack internet infrastructure.

Cameras also are desirable to hackers because they reveal personal data that can facilitate burglaries. There even are websites out there that stream unsecured live feeds from household cameras. Imagine strangers being able to witness everything you do in your home.

First, when choosing a device, don’t go with a no-name manufacturer. Stick with known brands, and watch for rip-offs sold through marketplace resellers. Remember, reviews can be faked to entice you into buying a substandard product.

Next, secure your network. It’s worth the additional cost to use a high-quality router that has a firewall and other advanced security features. Change the default password immediately, and use a strong password that is not in use anywhere else.

Weak and reused passwords are a primary means of gaining access to smart electronics. Password management apps such as 1Password and LastPass can help you generate random passwords.

Many routers have the ability to set up a guest network for your friends to use instead of your primary network. Alternatively, you could use the guest network feature exclusively for your IoT devices, reserving your main network for your computers, tablets and phones.

You may want to consider a dedicated network security appliance. This is a box that is separate from your router, although it also may be able to function as a router. It provides high-level antivirus, firewall, intrusion detection and security monitoring capabilities. Think of it like a reinforced shield between your home network and the internet.

Secure your other non-IoT devices by making sure all system and app updates are installed, and that you are using reliable antivirus products.

When setting up your smart home device, you’ll want to change the default password to something strong and unique. If your manufacturer offers two-factor authentication or two-step verification, use it. Update your device’s software as part of the install process, and install future updates as they become available.

Disable any unused features in your smart device’s settings panel. Never manage smart devices over public Wi-Fi unless you’re using a virtual private network to secure your connection. You also could use your phone’s personal hotspot feature, if available.

Companies such as Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft now offer better options for monitoring and deleting your online data. Keep an eye on these logs to look for potential intrusions, and erase private data as you feel appropriate.

• Triona Guidry is a computer specialist and freelance writer offering tech support, web design and business writing services. For computer help, visit her Tech Tips blog at lightningtechsupport.com.

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