By Praveen Kannan and Anna Strokolyst The Hotspot Shield team believes the internet should be open and secure …
Many items in your home, including your dryer, is a computer with the ability to track your behavior. Corporate entities and hackers alike are increasingly finding ways to capitalize on data grabs from even our most mundane of daily activities.
Thanks to the ever-growing Internet of Things that’s becoming integrated into the fabric of our lives, it’s hard to trust even the most seemingly innocuous inanimate objects in your home. See how your household items could be spying on everything you do.
Devices With Cameras Are Vulnerable
Your television and laptop now have some things in common — a camera and access to the Internet. An unprotected Internet connection is all that hackers need to break into your living room TV and turn you into the evening’s entertainment. That very scenario unfolded terribly in 2013 for Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf. The then 19-year-old was the victim of an extortion attempt by 20-year-old Jared James Abrahams after he recorded the beauty queen in secret using her own laptop-hijacked webcam.
Outdated Passwords Are Wide Open Doors
While no Internet connection is ever 100 percent secure, you can take steps to improve your security. Change the password on your Internet router, including the Wi-Fi, from its original factory setting. Use a random assortment of numbers, letters, and characters when creating the password. Never use personal information, including your Social Security number, ATM pin, or a birthday.
Appliances Communicating With Your Cell Phone
Apps that allow your smartphone to work your garage door opener or tell your coffee maker when to start brewing are both convenient and dangerous. Your cell phone collects data based on its use, and so do the apps that you download. Companies and marketers — despite supposedly stringent privacy protections — get their hands on this information every day all over the world. While a corporation might use that information to bring you target advertising, a hacker might look to steal your identity and ruin your credit rating in the process.
Monitor Your Wi-Fi Access: Preventing legal use of personal information that you freely send to businesses is basically impossible. You can, however, protect yourself from nefarious online thieves by disabling your phone from seeking open Wi-Fi networks. Remember, if your phone can connect to the coffee shop’s Wi-Fi, so can anyone else.
Geo Location Tools Give Away Your Daily Habits
Even your washer and dryer may have the technology to reach their manufacturer’s network so that techs can check performance. Those appliances may also send information about their location, including your street address, as well as trends in usage over time. Anyone penetrating the network could gain access to data stored in your appliances and use the information to create a rough outline of your regular routine.
Ask for the Details: Before you buy a major appliance with network capabilities, drill the manufacturer for some answers. You want to know the relative strength of their network, what safeguards they have in place to protect customer data, and for how long they keep your information in their system. Don’t settle for vague answers. Demand specifics or take your dollars elsewhere.
Linked Devices Create Chains of Security Risks
Your cell phone links to a network that talks to your home thermostat, which connects to the Internet to talk back, which then broadcasts streams of data containing your personal information. Does that sound at all secure to you? The more devices you bring into communication with one another, the greater the risk of someone finding a bad link in the chain. Linked devices and their convenience work against you because once a hacker gains access to one, he has access to them all.
Encrypt Your Wireless Router: Your home Wi-Fi connection is by far the weakest rung in your security ladder. A password alone won’t stop a determined thief, but encrypted data should work. Check out this article from PC World about the best ways to protect your home network with encryption.
Controlling Home Security Systems
Cameras and digital systems on your property designed to track would-be intruders can turn into tools for home invasion and spying. Can you open your front door and turn on the lights from your phone or tablet? So can a cyber criminal. The computers installed in modern security cameras are every bit as vulnerable as a desktop PC with an open Internet connection. Someone could have control of your home monitoring devices for weeks without you ever knowing.
Leave It to the Professionals: If your home security company provides an option for hardwiring the system into their operations center, do it. Leave the protecting to the professionals.
Be Wary of Hidden Microchips
Did you get a really good deal on a Chinese teapot? That fetching steeper might have a listening device implanted in it. It happened in Russia where authorities uncovered an entire array of Chinese-made kettles and clothes irons with implanted devices that could access unprotected wireless networks. The goal of these devices? To get inside retailer networks and cause general havoc, says UK tech blog The Register. In your home, spyware of this type could tiptoe past your Internet security settings and grab your stored information, including Social Security and credit card numbers.
Be an Informed Shopper: We live in a technological world where a chip no bigger than your fingernail can collect your personal data and store it for later use. Buy products from reputable retailers, and avoid deep discount sites with brands that you don’t recognize.
Pictures and Sounds Give Away Tons of Data
Every digital image and sound file created with a cell phone, tablet, computer, or other digital device has a varying amount of tracking metadata with it. This exchangeable image format (EXIF) info can carry your location right down to the address where you created the original file. Anyone nabbing pictures from your digital camera, phone, or tablet could potentially figure out where you live or places that you frequent based on that data.
Adjust Your Device Settings: Adjust your smartphone and tablet settings to drop your tracking information when you send pictures.
There’s no way to turn back the dial on device integration. Protecting your privacy in this era of hyper communication is more important than ever. Understand your devices and how they talk to one another. You may just avoid giving away your life story to the dishwasher.