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How to protect your ‘smart home,’ family from hackers

HOUSTON – In today’s “smart” homes, installing devices to help monitor your property around the clock is a good way to keep an eye out for thieves. But, according to cybersecurity experts, it’s also a way for hackers to invade your home unannounced through your devices and watch you and your family’s every move.

In December, a chilling video of a man talking to an 8-year-old Memphis girl through the Ring camera in her bedroom went viral. The man claimed to be Santa Claus and asked the little girl if she wanted to be his “best friend.”

The Williams family was shocked when they saw the video. As parents of a little girl, they never thought the device they purchased to keep their packages safe could be vulnerable to hackers.

“Horribly violated. Horribly violated. I mean, they come in your privacy,” said L.J. Williams. “You think you’re setting up something simple for your kids to monitor them, to see how they’re interacting and it turned out to be a nightmare. A nightmare.”

Steps to ‘hack-proof’ your home

Chris Bronk is an Assistant Professor of Computer Information Systems and Information System Security at University of Houston. The cybersecurity expert says most smart devices are connected to the internet via Wi-Fi, which increases the risk of being hacked.

“Because it’s 24/7, would-be attackers can get the geography of devices around the world that they can compromise, and they compromise them to gain access to things,” Bronk said.

Hackers gain access to cameras and speakers, and eventually banking and credit card information.

So how do you keep your family safe from these hacks?

Strong passwords

Never rely on default usernames and passwords that come with new devices. Change them as soon as you can. Bronk says the longer the password, the better.

Check device permissions

When installing a new device, be sure to go to the privacy settings to make sure you’re not sharing information you don’t want to share. Otherwise, the device will use factory settings which may share more information that you are comfortable with.

Two-factor authentication

This is a process in which users are asked to provide two different authentication factors to verify their identity when logging onto certain apps or devices. This allows users to receive a text message with a unique verification code, use fingerprint authentication, a special key code or security questions.

At the end of January, Ring launched its new control center and the company said future versions will provide users with additional security features.

Ring also introduced two-factor security authentication for users and provided a step-by-step video to help walk users through the setup of the device.

Hardwire devices

Bronk says smart TVs are especially vulnerable because they are not just used to watch television anymore. Since most smart TVs come equipped with access to streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, and also require you to use your login information for access, your stored credit card information can be accessed via WiFi.

Bronk says you can hardwire your devices so they are not broadcasting wirelessly all the time, making them less visible to hackers.