5 Ways to Secure Your IoT Devices—Before They Get Hacked

Use two-factor authentication, device updating and disabling of UPnP features, among other measures, to protect your IoT devices from hackers before you start using them.

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Illustration: © IoT For All

Internet of Things (IoT) devices make our lives more efficient and our day-to-day more convenient. They allow us to monitor our homes from afar, control our lights, thermostats, and locks and beef up the security of our homes—among a host of other things. But because smart devices have become so integrated into our lives, they leave us vulnerable to cybercrime too.

In general, IoT devices have little to no built-in security, making them top targets for hackers. And since most IoT devices are interconnected, it puts your whole suite of devices at risk if even one gets hacked. Just as you lock your front door before you go to bed, you’ll want to make sure your IoT devices are secure before you start using them. 

Here are five ways you to secure your IoT devices:

  1. Change your router’s default settings
  2. Use strong passwords
  3. Update your device routinely 
  4. Enable two-factor authentication
  5. Disable UPnP features

1. Change Your Router’s Default Settings 

First things first: change your router’s factory-default name and password. The factory-given name could give away the make and model of your router, making it easier for hackers to access. 

When you are setting up your router’s new name and password, avoid any words, phrases or numbers that could reveal personal information. For instance, avoid using street addresses, pet names, family names or even the number of people in your unit (e.g., JohnsonFamilyofFive). The more unusual and uncommon the name and the less correlation the name has to you, the better. 

As a general rule of thumb, you should never provide sensitive information on a public network. For instance, don’t go online shopping while on a public library’s Wi-Fi, as someone could easily steal it. If you don’t take measures to secure your Wi-Fi and home network, your home will only be as secure as the coffee shop down the street. 

2. Use Strong Passwords 

Using strong passwords may seem like a given, but secure passwords make it harder for your hackers to infiltrate your accounts. The stronger, more elaborate, and complex the password, the better able you’ll be able to protect yourself from the inside-out. 

Here are five tips to keep in mind as you create passwords. 

  1. Always use a combination of numbers, symbols, lowercase letters and uppercase letters.
  2. Never use the name of a pet, location, birthday, or anything that could be tied to your personal information.
  3. Never use the same password for multiple accounts. 
  4. Make your password as long as possible. 
  5. Don’t keep an electronic note of all your passwords (if that gets hacked, all your accounts are compromised!)

If you need to keep track of your various passwords, use a verified password manager. For accounts that are especially vulnerable to cybercrime (like your bank account), consider making your password even more complicated. Password hints can serve as great reminders if you accidentally forget your newly-minted passwords. 

3. Update Your Devices Routinely

You know that “Update Later” tab you dismiss every time you open your laptop? As easy as it is to push it to the side, you shouldn’t put off updating your devices. 

Since IoT devices weren’t created with spiffed-out security, it’s crucial to continually update them. Updating software ensures that you’re up to date on the latest antivirus and anti-malware countermeasures. They also help clear up any security flaws that slipped through the cracks in the older version of your device. 

Hackers are continually improving their game, so the more regularly you update your devices, the better protected you’ll be. 

4. Enable Two-Factor Authentication

In everyday life, we use two-factor authentication. Each time we swipe a debit card, we’re required to provide our pin as a way of preventing would-be criminals from stealing our money. 

The same way someone can steal your debit card, someone can hack into your accounts and access sensitive information—which is why you should double down on cybersecurity the same way you double down on protecting your money. 

Here’s how two-factor authentication protects you: two-factor authentication allows you to keep a tighter pulse on who accesses your accounts, and it enables you to be the gatekeeper of who goes in and out. 

For example, if someone successfully hacks into your email account, two-way authentication will notify you immediately and require that you grant further access. If it’s yourself or someone you know, you can approve the request, but, if you’re unaware of who might be trying to access your email, you can stop a hacker in their tracks. 

You can activate two-factor authentication on almost any IoT device, and the good news is it’s relatively simple to do. Here’s how to activate two-factor authentication on anything from Facebook to PayPal.

5. Disable UPnP Features

Most IoT devices have UPnP, or Universal Plugin and Play features, which allow multiple devices to connect. For instance, your Alexa can pair with your smart lights to turn on and off via voice command. As convenient as this is, it also poses several security risks. 

If a hacker discovers one device, they’ll be able to more easily find another device that’s connected. And, since all the devices are connected, it makes it easy for a cybercriminal to dismantle the whole system. Luckily, most devices allow you to disable UPnP by accessing their settings.

Protect Your Devices and Prevent Cybercrime 

To refresh: if you don’t use your voice command features on your device, disable it (and even if you do, consider disabling it!) We also recommend putting any voice-automated IoT devices on mute when they’re not in use either. Another rule of thumb that’s important to follow: when you’re not using an IoT device, unplug it. 

Most modern-day IoT devices make it easy to set up and begin using your device as soon as you take it out of the package. But, before you pull your new nanny cam out of its box or begin setting up your new Alexa, customize your device’s settings so you can stay better protected.