In October 2016, a massive cyber attack took down popular websites such as Netflix, Twitter, and Spotify. “Denial of service” attacks against websites have become pretty commonplace, but this one was different. Instead of using standard computers to generate the massive traffic needed to take down a website, this attack used malware called Mirai to harness the computing power of the “Internet of Things” or IoT, which is made up of millions of Internet-connected devices such as DVRs, webcams, and printers. Your set top box or smart home could have been an accessory to this crime.
Let’s say one of your connected devices is infiltrated by malware. Should you care? Of course you should. If your device is part of an attack that makes it hard for people to stream movies on Netflix, that causes inconvenience. But if your device becomes part of an attack on a hospital or a power grid, lives could be lost. You don’t want to make it easy for cyber criminals to do harm. Second, by using your device for their purposes, the criminals are stealing your Internet bandwidth and computing power. Third, if a criminal can take control of your device, they could also steal your personal information.
Fortunately, there are some easy steps you can take to protect your connected devices, from your Fitbit to your smart fridge:
- When you get the device, change the factory-default password to a strong password of your choice.
- Disconnect the device from the Internet when you’re not using it.
- Cycle the power regularly to wipe any malware from the device memory. (On some devices, you may have to reset the password after doing this.)
- If the device supports Universal Plug and Play (UPnP), disable that feature so that the device isn’t easy for criminals to discover over the Internet. (You will likely need to consult the user manual specific to the device.)
- Protect your home network to help keep malware from getting past the router in the first place.
Last, but not least, when you buy any new connected device, first check that it has safety features such as password support. From connected baby monitors to smart watches, these gadgets have been a gold mine for the inventors, and building in security features is often the last thing on their minds. They won’t think about it unless consumers demand it, so vote with your wallet to help keep good gadgets from going bad.