Creating a Cybersecure Home
Modern homes are getting smarter and smarter, equipped with the latest technology and newest appliances.
Smart devices—the electronic gadgets that connect to your home network—bring new technology and, with it, new risks, into your home.
With each new addition to your home network, you should consider how to maintain a cybersecure home.
What’s In My Home Network?
Many homeowners share a common misconception:
My home network is too small to be at risk of a cyberattack. 1
Unfortunately, many cyberattacks are not personal and can happen on networks of any size.
Your home network is the group of devices in your home — including computers, printers, and mobile devices, that connect to each other and to the Internet. When a network connects to the Internet, it can be vulnerable to outside threats.
Your Wireless Network
Did You Know: The term Wi-Fi doesn’t stand for anything—it was simply a catchy and user-friendly name created by a marketing company. 2
Your home network can connect to the Internet in two ways — with or without wires. A wired home network connects devices to each other and the Internet using cables; however, a wireless network, often called Wi-Fi, connects without cables. Whether wired or wireless, if a bad actor gains access to your home network, they can access your personal data by watching your Internet traffic or push malicious software to your Internet-connected devices.
According to Deloitte, the average household has 11 Internet-connected devices, and most of these devices connect wirelessly.3 Virtually every connected home utilizes a Wi-Fi network, so, to help minimize cybersecurity risk in your home, consider securing your wireless network.
Change your default Wi-Fi network name.
When setting up your home wireless network, you often have the option to create a unique name to distinguish your network from the others in your neighborhood. Consider choosing a name that cannot be tied back to your location or identity, as bad actors can use this name to target you. 1
Reset default passwords.
Most network devices are pre-configured with a default password for easy setup; however, this password can often be found online or written on the device itself. To help prevent unwanted guests from easily guessing your network password, help secure your device with a new, strong password.
Set up segregated networks.
Many routers offer the option to set up separate networks, which mitigates the risk of spreading malicious software from guest phones or smart devices to your primary network. Consider setting up at least three separate networks with different login credentials and passwords: one for yourself, one for your guests, and one for your smart devices.
Research your device.
Most devices are not secure out of the box. Review your router’s instruction manual or contact your Internet service provider to learn how to manage your specific device’s security settings. Consider enabling security features like encryption, which scrambles the information sent through your network so it is harder for bad actors to intercept.
Consider a Network Firewall
A firewall is a security tool that monitors incoming and outgoing traffic from your network. The firewall decides whether to allow or block specific traffic based on a set of security rules. Like your alarm system chiming if an uninvited guest opens the door to your house, a firewall alerts you to potentially dangerous activity invading your home network.
Most wireless routers come with a configurable, built-in network firewall that can be tailored to fit your needs. The firewall may be turned off by default, so consider checking with the router manufacturer to see if this feature is available to you. 1
A secure wireless network is only one step in maintaining a cybersecure home; you should also consider the security of your network-connected devices.
Each device you own collects your information. Some devices collect a large amount of information, like a smart security system, which captures video of your family and friends visiting and leaving your home. This information could be dangerous in the wrong hands, telling if your home is empty or your children home alone.
Other devices, like smart lights, may not store the same amount of sensitive information. Nonetheless, your smart lighting system could be accessed by a bad actor to find out if your lights are set to “vacation mode”, indicating you are out of town.
It’s important to secure each device you own because our home network is interconnected. According to Norton, 1 in 10 computers are infected with viruses each month and, if one of your devices gets infected, the virus can spread throughout your home network and devices. 4
Do not allow any device to be the weak link, and consider the following suggestions to help secure each device:
Research the security of the device.
Before purchasing, check if the device is manufactured by a reputable company and sold at a reputable store. Educate yourself on the device’s security settings and know the full range of its capabilities. Buying a device that does more than what you need it to, like connecting to the Internet or your other devices, can unnecessarily increase your vulnerability to attacks.
Enable automatic updates.
Bad actors are constantly searching for new weakness and ways into your devices. At the same time, manufacturers are releasing updates that help protect against latest known vulnerabilities. One way to help secure your devices is through regular updates, so your devices have the latest security patches. If you are using an old device that cannot be updated, consider upgrading to a new device that is fully supported. 5
Only download applications from trusted sources.
Anyone can develop software and publish it on the Internet without having it vetted. To reduce your risk of downloading an infected or malicious application, download only from trusted sources, such as Apple’s App Store, the Google Play store, or other reputable company websites. Additionally, confirm that the application has positive reviews and is actively updated by the developer. 6
Review your privacy settings.
Privacy settings allow you some control over how organizations manage your personal information. Don’t think of your privacy settings as something you can update once and forget about, as many organizations periodically update their privacy setting options: A quick Internet search will show you how to configure your privacy settings on most major devices. 7
Disable features that you do not use.
According to the SANS Institute, you are far more likely to lose a mobile device than you are to have it stolen or hacked into. It is logical, then, to enable location services on your smartphone, but do you need these same settings on a stationary device, like a smart lightbulb? Consider evaluating which features you have enabled on each of your devices.
Backup your devices regularly.
No matter how secure your home network is, you can never be fully protected against a cyberattack. To increase the likelihood that you maintain your important information, regularly back up your devices to a segregated, secure archive. 4 Then, consider periodically testing the restore process, to make sure your backups save fully in the event you need them.
Consider Antivirus Software
Antivirus is software designed to detect and remove viruses and other types of malicious software, or malware, from your computer. Malware is designed to steal data and destroy computer systems and comes in many types, including worms, spyware, and ransomware.
Antivirus helps to protect against malware by detecting it, isolating it, and, in some cases, deleting it from your computer before it compromises your device and data. Antivirus software is often built-in to new computers. Consider researching your computer to understand what options are available to you and if they are enabled adequately. If the default solution is not adequate, you can purchase the software to install. 8
Technology advances daily, and even a fortune teller cannot predict what the next smart home device will be.
One thing, however, will not change—technology will continue to be a tradeoff between functionality and security.
Stay up to date and educated about which devices you adopt and how you use them. By knowing how to manage your devices, you can be confident in the security of your home.
- U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency — Security Tip (ST15-002)
- Verizon — Wi-Fi
- Deloitte — 2022 Mobile Trends Survey
- Norton — Data Backup
- SANS Institute — The Power of Updating
- SANS Institute — Securing Mobile Devices
- Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada — Privacy Settings
- U.K. National Cyber Security Centre — Antivirus Product
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