Smart Devices Lend New Opportunities for ‘Home Invasions’

February 11, 2019

A growing number of reports reveal that hackers are increasingly gaining access to homeowners’ smart devices to spy on them.

The Chicago Tribune recently reported that a couple in Lake Barrington, Ill., learned their devices were hacked when they heard a deep male voice speak to their 7-month-old son through a baby monitor. The couple also noticed that their Nest thermostat had been turned up to 90 degrees without their control. The male voice then came through their security camera, using racial slurs and other profane language while speaking to the family.

Officials at Google, Nest’s parent company, say that although there has not been a wide-scale breach of the devices, customers may need to do more to protect them from being hacked. Last week, Nest sent an email to users, urging them to update their devices’ software and use their security features.

Most smart-home devices must connect to a network and can be controlled and monitored remotely through a smartphone app—which potentially makes them vulnerable to cyberattacks. Security experts believe the problem could get worse as use of smart-home devices, such as voice assistants, thermostats, doorbells, and televisions, becomes more mainstream. But it can be difficult for homeowners to know when a smart device has been compromised. Security experts say tell-tale signs include the device running slower or becoming less responsive. They also urge manufacturers to do more to secure their products and say homeowners should create strong and individualized passwords for each of their smart devices. “These gizmos are being manufactured at a crazy rate, yet they’re not being secured,” Christian Vezina, chief information security officer at OneSpan, a mobile security company, told the Tribune.

Any smart device could be exposed to potential hacking and needs to be protected the same way a laptop or smartphone would be, says Karl Sigler, threat intelligence manager at SpiderLabs. “If you’re thinking about your smart toaster, you might not think it’s an issue,” Sigler told the Tribune, until a hacker takes control of it and starts a fire.

How to Avoid Having Your Smart Home Devices Hacked,” The Chicago Tribune (February 2019)