The Internet of Things era: 6 ways to stay safe

The IoT is full of promise, but it also means more cyberthreats, so you need to stay safe.

Cyber intruders spied on kids and parents through baby monitors. Smart locks on hundreds of homes failed after a software update. Cyber creeps used malware to steal personal data and peer through webcams. Stalkers have tracked victims through spyware on their phones.

While the Internet of Things (IoT) is full of promise and can, in many ways, make our lives easier, it comes at a cost. The devices that we carry around in our pockets and place in our homes control access to our possessions, and our most intimate personal details. In the wrong hands, those gadgets have the power to put our physical safety at risk.

Gone are the early days of cyberthreats, when infecting someone’s computer with a virus basically meant giving them a floppy disk. The internet has made it very easy for people to install malware and transmit viruses. Today, cybercriminals use automated tools to attack millions of devices at once. As we look to the future, the connected home will mean an explosion in devices. The research firm Gartner estimates that by 2020 there will be more than 20 billion connected devices, the majority of which will be in the consumer segment. Each device offers a point of access for an attack. If, say, a smart thermostat is compromised in your home, that could expose information on all the devices connected to your network. Think of the IoT as a chain: It’s only as strong as its weakest link.

As our reliance on connectivity grows, it’s vital to stay vigilant. Here are six things you can do to help keep your IoT network—and yourself—safe.

1. Secure your home network

When your home network is protected, so is your data. There are a number of basic steps you should do to help keep would-be thieves at bay. First, make sure you have the latest router firmware and that you’ve changed the default password. Next, hide your network so it flies under the radar. Be sure and change your Wi-Fi password regularly to avoid cyberattacks. Bonus point: turn your Wi-Fi off when it’s not in use. Still feeling insecure about your security? Avast’s Wi-Fi Inspector can scan your home network, identify vulnerabilities and instruct you on how to take action.

2. Create a “guest” network for all of your IoT devices

That way, if that toaster or another connected item gets attacked, it won’t act as a gateway to your computer, phone or other technology that can give access to sensitive information.

3. Manage your IoT devices

Consider the scenarios addressed at the start of this piece that show how the IoT can be used against you. To avoid those, you can start by doing your research and finding devices that come from reputable brands that make cybersecurity a priority. To safeguard your privacy, turn off cameras and microphones that aren’t in use. If your gadgets receive software updates, accept those because they could improve security. And always create strong passwords for your accounts and devices, including your IoT tech (Avast’s Password Manager can help you create and store a strong password).

4. Use a VPN

A virtual private network (VPN) prevents others from seeing what you do online. It secures your Internet connection and encrypts data you send, protecting your privacy. When you’re using Wi-Fi away from home, whether it’s in a café, an airport or another place, make sure you use a VPN, like Avast SecureLine VPN, to ensure the privacy of your communications. Without a VPN, any information you send and receive, including passwords and personal data, could fall into the wrong hands. (To learn more, read this blog post on “Eight Reasons to Use a VPN”).

5. Protect your computers and mobile devices

Viruses. Spyware. Malware. Ransomware. It can all seep in through your IoT items and infect your phone, tablet, computer and other devices. That’s why it’s vital that you install security software on all of your computers and devices–and use password protection–in order to keep your data safe, in the event that the devices in your home are compromised.

6. Monitor threats at the network level 

Every month, Avast stops about 2 billion cyberattacks against consumers. Hundreds of millions of those attacks are unique, meaning they’ve never been seen before. Constant innovation is needed to stay ahead of the attackers and keep consumers safe–not only online, but in their communities and homes. Avast Smart Life is an IoT security services platform that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to detect and deflect threats, keeping your home network secure. Later this year, Avast will release Avast Smart Home Security, which will learn the behavior of your IoT devices and, should that behavior change, alert you to any botnet attacks, privacy violations and malware threats, and shut down the attack. The next big battle for cybersecurity is securing the Internet of Things, and Avast is on the front lines.

Previously published on Reuters Plus website.

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