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Smart technology may leave homes vulnerable to hackers

Devices that connect to computer networks are potentially vulnerable to hackers. This is a reality of modern living and also a concern for homeowners who have established “smart houses” or use network-based security systems.

In an effort to make homes “smarter” and more secure, some homeowners are spending substantial amounts of money on devices that automate certain aspects of home living. According to Reuters, the home automation market exceeded $1 billion in 2012, and those figures continue to rise. Internet-based devices and those that sync up to smartphone apps can handle a number of tasks. Some automatically sense if a home is occupied and adjust heating or cooling systems accordingly, while others allow remote control of lights, security systems, cameras, and doors. People can check up on kids via network-based nanny cams or turn on their hot tubs while on the way home from work. Although these devices make life more convenient, they also open up residences to the possibility of security breaches.

Just this year an Internet-based baby monitor was hacked in a Cincinnati home. Parents heard a strange man’s voice yelling at their 10-month-old sleeping daughter to wake up. The child’s father ran to his daughter’s room to see what was going on, but the hacker wasn’t there. Then the child’s baby monitor began to rotate on its own and projected the voice of a man screaming obscenities.

Experts warn that this isn’t an isolated incident, and wireless devices that tap into the home’s IP address are a window into homes and sensitive personal data.

Imagine a third-party hacker accessing children’s names by viewing decorations in a nursery. Hackers also may raise an unsuspecting person’s energy bills by turning up the heat while that person is away from home. Home security cameras can be turned on the homeowner and become remote surveillance devices for hackers.

Despite the best efforts of programmers and manufacturers, there are ways to circumvent even the most reliable security systems. To protect themselves from hackers, homeowners should follow manufacturers’ recommendations to change passwords or rename their devices from factory standard. These are important security measures. In addition, customers should not leave ports open or use port forwarding. Encrypted VPN systems should be used for home networks whenever possible. If any security weaknesses are discovered when using smart home devices, they should be brought to the attention of the manufacturer, who may have fixes, patches or new devices that offer more security than older models.

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