Maintaining your IoT devices

Your smart home will save you some time and effort. But you need to reserve a bit of time for maintaining it properly as part of your IoT device security strategy.

Every device needs its firmware kept up to date. When you’re installing devices, it’s a good idea to bookmark the manufacturer’s web page so you can easily check for updates to the device’s firmware and software. If you’re lucky, there will be an email alert or even automatic updates; if not, you’ll have to search.

Be careful what you connect – the dangers of smart speakers

Some IoT devices are quite limited and only connect to your control network. Others are considerably smarter. And the smarter they are, the bigger the risk.

So be careful what you connect. Smart speakers are a particular security risk. For example, if your security cameras and locks are connected to your voice assistant, an intruder could simply yell “Okay Google, open the doors” and get access to the house. If that sounds unrealistic, consider that Burger King ran an ad that deliberately activated Google Home speakers and prompted them to tell their owners about the Whopper Burger. Google eventually blocked the ad.

Though annoying, the BK exploit was harmless. But it highlights a vulnerability that is real — and one that could be used for criminal purposes.

Hacks have also been discovered to enable the speakers to continue listening after a question has been asked, recording conversations to deliver it to an eavesdropper. So, it may be a good idea to keep your security system on a separate network to which your voice assistant doesn’t have access. You might also want to keep access to your bank account well away from the device.

Remember that smart speakers and other devices store data about you and your personal behavior. It’s worth tracking down where this data is stored and the purposes for which it can be used (the service should come with a privacy statement). It’s also worth knowing how to delete data that you don’t want to be kept.

With Amazon and Google, you can delete the data easily. For Amazon, use your Alexa app to go to Settings and look at History to see what’s on file; you can purge individual requests or just delete all of them. Google Assistant recordings can be inspected and deleted through your Google Account. It might well be a good idea to run a purge on a regular basis.

Smart TVs can also hold a lot of data about what you’re watching. In 2017, TV maker Vizio was fined by the FTC for tracking TV owners’ viewing habits and then selling the information to advertisers. It’s easy enough to hack some smart TVs, too. So, if Vizio was collecting that information, it’s quite possible that hackers could also have gotten hold of the data. Now that TVs and internet networks intersect, smart TVs could also pose a threat to your data privacy on other accounts. Make sure you read the manual, as you may be able to turn off tracking. You should also consider whether isolating the TV to its own network is a good idea.