Improving Your Home IoT Device Security

Today's home IoT devices are a security nightmare. Here are three simple ways that home users should protect themselves and the other devices connected to their home networks.

Illustration: © IoT For All

These days, people are adding more and more IoT hardware to their home networks, lured by the convenience and extra functionality they enable. Devices like connected thermostats, network cameras and smart speakers are all becoming standard equipment – and we’ve already reached the point that 66 percent of North American homes have at least one network-connected device.

Securing Your Home Network

That figure reflects a staggering amount of growth in the IoT space in a very short time. That growth, while great for the industry as a whole, has come at a price. It’s the fact that we now have millions of users adding devices to their networks with little to no idea of how to keep them secure. Just a single look at a site like Insecam should be enough to illustrate the scope of the problem.

The trouble is the issues run a bit deeper than that. Insecure IoT devices are now becoming the backbone of dangerous botnets, launching DDoS attacks on networks across the globe. There have also been instances of security flaws in IoT software components that have left millions of devices vulnerable to hijacking. For the average user, it’s getting to the point that adding an IoT device to the home is akin to unlocking their front door and inviting strangers into their homes in the middle of the night.

The good news is it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, there are some simple things that even novice users can do to protect the IoT devices they’re adding to their homes. To help spread the word, here are three of the simplest methods of securing home IoT hardware.

Setup a Home VPN Server

By now, most internet users are familiar with VPN technology, since consumer VPN services are spreading like wildfire. They may not know that a VPN can also be an excellent way to secure their home IoT gear. To use one in this way, all you have to do is set up a home VPN server, and use the network’s router (or firewall) to block incoming access to the network’s IoT devices. Then, anytime it’s necessary to connect to those devices from outside the network, just use the VPN to create a secure communication pathway. Doing so preserves your remote access to your devices while denying attackers access to any vulnerabilities of the devices in use.

Add a Firewall

In the average home’s network, there’s little standing between the various connected devices and the internet other than an ISP-provided modem. While those devices do offer a little protection from external threats, they’re not known for their security. That means the first step to keeping IoT devices secure in a home is to add a purpose-built firewall device to the mix. Antivirus and network security vendor Bitdefender has already built a device that’s specifically designed to protect connected IoT devices, so that’s a good place to start. For more advanced users that have a disused computer sitting around, it’s even possible to deploy an open-source solution like Untangle that will do the job quite nicely.

Create a Segregated Network

As it turns out, one of the biggest problems with insecure IoT devices is that they offer attackers a convenient pathway into a home network when compromised. Unfortunately, even with a firewall in place, the nature of most IoT devices means they’ll remain in contact with the outside world (like calling home for updates or to connect to cloud services) even if you’re not aware of it – so they’re still somewhat vulnerable. To minimize that risk, it’s a good idea to create a segregated network for your IoT devices. That keeps them isolated from your computers, tablets and smartphones and reduces the potential for damage if there’s a flaw you haven’t guarded against.

A Secure Smart Home

By deploying these three simple solutions, most of the risks associated with today’s home IoT devices are rendered moot. As developments in the IoT space continue, there’s sure to be a renewed focus on security and standardization that will make many of these measures less vital, but, for now, they should form the basis for effective home IoT defenses. So, don’t wait to protect your home’s IoT gear, and make sure to let others know that they should be doing the same – they’ll thank you for it.

Andrej Kovacevic
Andrej is a dedicated writer and digital evangelist. He is pursuing an ongoing mission to share the benefits of his years of hard-won expertise with business leaders and marketing professionals everywhere. He is a contributor to a wide range of technology-focused publications, where he may be found discussing everything from neural networks and natural language processing to the latest in smart home IoT devices. If there's a new and exciting technology, there's a good chance Andrej is writing about it somewhere out there.