Securing your Wi-Fi to Secure your Smart Home

Feb 15, 2017 • SwitchThat Staff

The rapid growth of home automation has brought with it a rise in concern about the security of all the new connected devices in our homes.

It's very easy to think that this issue rests solely with the device manufacturers, but as consumers we must also take responsibility – just as we ensure the physical locks on our homes are working at their best to block burglars, so too must we ensure our online security is sufficient to protect us against cyber criminals.

Luckily, there a number of simple steps we can take to ensure our smart homes are built upon secure foundations.

The front door to your smart home

Your Wi-Fi router is the front door of your smart home and securing it is vital.

Routers generally come preconfigured with a default admin username and password. These are often public knowledge and attackers try to break into devices using these widely known credentials. So, the first step to securing your home is to change the router admin username and password.

The next thing to change is the publicly visible name of your Wi-Fi network, otherwise known as its SSID. Out of the box, routers come with default SSIDs that often include the manufacturer and even the model of the router. This information gives a potential attacker a head-start: if they know what router you have they'll know its vulnerabilities and how to exploit them. So, on first setup, make sure you change the default name (SSID) of your Wi-Fi network.

All Wi-Fi routers come with encryption, and having an encrypted, password-protected Wi-Fi connection is probably the most part of home networking security. It's likely that encryption is already activated (do you need to enter a password to connect your phone or laptop to your Wi-Fi?) but if not then you should turn it on immediately. You can do this from the router admin page, and you should choose WPA2 Personal encryption.

Care must also be taken when choosing passwords. For most of us, the only security decisions we make are our choice of passwords, but too often these are weak and/or personal, making it easier for us to remember – and easier for a hacker to find out. So do the opposite – choose a few random words and use them to make a password. Longer passwords are harder to crack than short ones, so make your passwords as long as you can – a minimum of 8 characters but ideally longer, and make sure they include a mix of letters, numbers and symbols. Don’t just choose one password and use it for everything, have a few different passwords – perhaps based on a common theme, but tweaked for different applications and made more complex when greater security is required (e.g. for banking.)

Staying secure

As well as these crucial initial steps, there are a couple of other things that should to be done regularly to ensure you stay secure.

Firstly, you should check your router manufacturer's website for firmware updates on a regular basis, and apply any update as soon as it becomes available. Manufacturers release firmware updates for a number of reasons (e.g. performance improvements) but very often it is to secure weaknesses against the latest threats. Ignoring updates may leave you vulnerable and an easy target for cyber criminals.

Secondly, you should change your passwords regularly, and especially if you’ve had to give them to anyone for any particular reason. Remember Mike from our previous blog post? Passwords are our online keys, keep them safe and change the locks when necessary.

Just like we ensure our homes are built on strong foundations, we must take responsibility to ensure our online security is as strong. Knowing we’ve done that, we can spend less time worrying and more time enjoying our new smart devices!