How to Prevent Home Automation Hacking

With many home security systems on the market today, home owners are able to add home automation features. These features can automatically lock and unlock your doors, turn on lights for you while you're gone, make a video feed of your home available on your mobile phone, and even include thermostat control. These features are very convenient for home owners, but they can also be convenient for a new kind of thief in the home: home automation hackers.

Home automation hackers prey on the vulnerabilities of your home automation system, breaking in to change settings, view video feeds, and even unlock doors or open your garage so that they can gain access to your home. This is a frightening invasion of privacy that can make your home and family vulnerable. But the good news is that with smart security, you can minimize the danger of home automation hacking.

How Vulnerable is Your Home Automation System?

Is home automation likely to impact you? Maybe. One recent study indicated that 70% of Internet connected home devices have security vulnerabilities. If you think your system is secure, you should be thinking again.

In a test, one Forbes reporter was able to gain access to eight different homes, revealing sensitive information including IP addresses, appliances, devices, and even the names of children. The reporter was able to find out where some of the homes were located, and even turned the lights of the master bedroom on and off.

The reporter was able to gain access to the homes' systems simply by Googling for a list of smart homes. These particular smart homes used a product that did not require user names or passwords, leaving them open for hackers (or testing reporters) to manipulate their homes.

Unfortunately, every connected home is potentially vulnerable to home automation hacking. It's important to work closely with your home automation system provider to learn about security measures and how you can maximize your security settings. You should also take steps independently to lock down your home automation system securely.

What Home Automation Hackers Can Do

There's practically no end to the number of ways a home automation hacker can harm your home or family. Once they have access to your home, they control the lights, temperature, even the locks on your doors.

Hackers can genuinely creep you out by spying on your home video feeds, or turning lights on and off like a remote ghost. They can change your air conditioner settings so that you feel a chill in the air that you're not expecting, or change the channel on your TV while you're watching it.

Tapping into video feeds, a hacker can even view and capture videos of your family in everyday life. Intimate moments can be shared and exploited online.

They can make your home physically vulnerable, turning off security systems, unlocking your front door, or opening your garage door. This can leave your home open to real life burglars whether you're home or not. Hackers can also see when you've set your home automation system to its away settings, indicating that you'll be out of the home for a period of time.

A hacker can even manipulate or harm expensive equipment in your home. For example, they could leave your heater running at an extremely high temperature. This can not only make you uncomfortable, it can damage your HVAC system and send your bill through the roof. They can blow your surround sound speakers -- and probably scare you and your neighbors at the same time. Or, they can turn down the temperature on a smart refrigerator and spoil your food.

How You Can Keep Home Hackers Out

Just as you protect your home from physical burglars, it's essential for your privacy, safety, and peace of mind that you also protect your home from virtual burglars. Hackers are coming up with new ways to break into systems every day, but you can stay ahead of the game with simple security solutions.

While ultimately, just like burglars, home automation hackers will find a way in if they are determined enough, you can deter rookie hackers and those looking for easy hacks by putting security measures in place. And the more security measures you take, the more difficult your home will be to break into. Experts stress multiple layers of security for computers and systems, and home automation systems are no exception. Implement these security measures to improve the safety of your home automation system:

  • Set a password: The biggest mistake you can make is not setting a password, using the default password, or using a weak password. Your password should be unpredictable. Use strong passwords with numbers, letters, and characters, and avoid using real words or names. You should also use a different password for your home automation system than the password for your home network. And of course, if you're setting up a login page on your own, it should be private and set to block search engine crawls.
  • Change your password regularly: Change your password regularly, just in case a hacker is able to guess your old password and gain access.
  • Use a secure router: A secured router can help to keep all of the devices in your home safer from hackers, whether that's your computer, tablet, or home automation system. It's best to choose a router that's known for its security features. And of course, be sure to change the password when you install it. Hackers are often able to gain access simply by using the known default password on a router.
  • Create a separate network for your home automation system: Consider creating multiple access points on your router so that you have two different networks: one for your computer and mobile devices and another for your home automation system and connected home devices. That way, if a hacker steals your network password from your phone or laptop, they still won't be able to get into your home automation system. It's also a good idea to set up a guest network with a separate password for any visitors in your home, including contractors and overnight guests.
  • Hide your network: Hackers can't break into what they can't find. Use your wireless router's settings to make your home automation network invisible from automatic searching. With this setting, you'll need to know the name of the network to connect.
  • Use encrypted signals: Ask your home automation company if the signals sent for videos and controls are encrypted.
  • Check your logs: Take a look at the IP address history on your surveillance camera logs. If there's an IP address you don't recognize, you may have been hacked. You'll need to contact your security system and change your password right away.
  • Watch your bills: Just as you should check camera logs, it's a good idea to look for any unusual usage on your energy bills. Monitor your meter readings and compare them with your bill.
  • Avoid physical access to devices with USB ports: Experts warn that devices like the Google Nest are particularly vulnerable physically, as they have a USB port. Hackers can gain access using a USB that they've configured to take over -- but they do need to be physically in your home with the device, or have access to the device, such as at a repair shop.
  • Stay updated: Regularly update the firmware on your router as well as the software for your home automation system. You should also keep your mobile app up to date for patches and updates. This will keep you up to date on the latest security patches introduced by the manufacturer.
  • Change the port on your IP camera: Make it more difficult for hackers to find your camera by changing your default port, Many IP cameras will use a default port that is easy to discover.
  • Work with a reputable company: When choosing your home automation or home security system, work with a company that has a good reputation and a long track record of excellence and security. They will be more likely to have security measures in place. You should also ask about what security features they have to protect you from home automation hackers.
  • Don't use public Wi-Fi: If you're using a mobile device to access your home remotely, be careful about the connection you're using. You should avoid using Wi-Fi connections while you're connecting to your home. Turn off the Wi-Fi and use secure mobile data instead. Or, use an encrypted mobile website if your system offers that as an option.
  • Be careful about where you point cameras: You should install cameras with the knowledge that some day, a stranger might be able to gain access to it. This may mean that you avoid installing cameras in bedrooms to maintain better privacy while still keeping cameras focused only on front and back doors to capture unauthorized access to your home.