By Declan Dunn, TechViews.org …..
Remember the massive DDoS attack a couple of months ago that was targeting home & business IOS devices? Most people never knew that their simple wireless home security cameras, or remote baby monitors, or home computer network, or even their remote control thermostat could be used for something so devastating.
It’s all because we now have hundreds of thousands (and growing) items connected to the Internet through Wi-Fi that is accessed from insecure home routers.
You may not think about it, but constantly-connected devices like thermostats, NAS devices, TVs, kitchen appliances, and home automation systems pass data to and from the internet all the time.
We call all of these gadgets the “internet of things,” but like other internet-connected devices, they’re vulnerable to the rest of the world. That means you need to take a few precautions before you set them up.
Never Connect Your Appliances to the Internet Without a Firewall
Most of us have a router at home that acts as a firewall. In simple terms, the router sends traffic that’s meant for a device to that device, and drops traffic that’s either unexpected, unwanted, or specifically malicious.
Most of us would never imagine connecting our computers directly to the Internet without the protection of our routers, or at least with some kind of firewall in place to block malicious traffic and port scans.
There’s no reason you should assume that the tiny computer in your new appliance is any different. It may not store sensitive or personal information, but if it’s also on your home network, there’s no reason not to keep it behind your home router or firewall.
Some devices, like IP security cameras, try to make setup easy by suggesting you expose them to the internet. They generally rely on password protection and self-contained web pages to stay secure. Unfortunately, we’ve learned that’s far from reliable.
With those devices, you should definitely use strong passwords, but you should still keep them locked down and behind a firewall, preferably with port forwarding configured so you can access them externally if you need to, and they can call home when they have to.
Consider Using a VPN for Remote Access to Your Home
A VPN, or virtual private network, gives you the ability to securely connect to your home network from afar. If you connect remotely to your home appliances, make sure they are behind your firewall or router. And use (or create) a VPN for the remote connection.
Instead of leaving those appliances connected directly to the Internet where they are vulnerable, connect them instead to your router. While VPNs encrypt the information going to and from your hand held devices to the Internet, you can also use one to create a private connection between you and a trusted network (in this case, your home network).
This way you can check up on the security cameras, turn the thermostat up or down without worrying that the rest of the internet can do the same thing.
This only opens up your appliances to your home network and not the Internet at large, but still access them from anywhere by logging in to your home network through your VPN. Your Router information page will tell you how to make those connections by port forwarding.
Make Sure Your Home Network is Secure
Of course, keeping all of those devices behind a firewall or behind your router will only help if your home network is secure. Take some time to get to know how to use your home network, set it up properly, and make sure your router’s security settings are optimal.
Again, read your router information page to learn how to do this. If your home network is poorly configured, the devices you’re trying to shield from the rest of the internet don’t have much protection.
Beyond making sure your router’s password is unique and strong, your firmware is up to date, make sure your router is using strong Wi-Fi encryption (preferably WPA or WPA2, with WPS disabled) and your router’s administration page is not accessible to the Internet.
You’ll also want to make sure all of your other devices are protected by your router or some other firewall—one point of entry to your network can expose all of your other networked devices. Finally, make sure you’re running solid, updated antivirus and anti-malware utilities on your computers.
Finally, it’s important to remember that the weakest link in the security chain is always the end user. That means you. If you don’t take the time to educate yourself on how to protect your data and your devices, you’ll leave holes in your home network that can lead to identity theft, fraud, or malicious users using your devices for their own purposes.
That could mean your PC becomes a zombie in a DDOS attack or your security cameras, or baby monitors are is plastered across the internet for everyone to see.
Either way, whether the consequences are severe or just annoying, a little forethought and a little education goes along way to making sure all of your new internet connected appliances—and your old ones, like PCs and gaming consoles—all get along and work the way you want them to.
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