Cybersecurity Awareness Month: If You Connect It, Protect It

Cybersecurity Awareness Month: If You Connect It, Protect It

October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, which is led by the U.S. government’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in conjunction with the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA)—a national non-profit focused on cybersecurity education & awareness. McAfee is pleased to announce that we’re a proud participant.

We live in a day and age when even lightbulbs can be hacked.

Perhaps you’ve caught the stories in the news: various devices like home cameras, smart appliances, and other Internet of Things (IoT) devices falling prey to hackers and attacks, such as when the Mirai botnet took out large swathes of the internet in 2016. As posted by Statista, estimates project that the world will have nearly 40 billion IoT devices in the next five years and upwards of 50 billion by 2030. That’s in homes and businesses alike, ranging anywhere from digital assistants, smart watches, medical devices, thermostats, vehicle fleet management devices, smart locks, and yes, even the humble lightbulb—and like our computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets, they all need to be protected.

The reason is simple: your network is only as safe as the weakest device that’s on it. And we’re putting so much more on our networks than ever before. In effect, that means our homes have more targets for hackers than ever before as well. In the hands of a dedicated crook, one poorly protected device can open the door to your entire network—much like a thief stealing a bike by prying open the weak link in a chain lock. Therefore, so goes the saying, “If You Connect It, Protect It.”

The Eight-Point List for Protecting Your IoT Devices

What’s challenging is that our IoT devices don’t always lend themselves to the same sort of protections like our computers, laptops, and phones do. For example, you can’t actually install security software directly on them. However, there are things you can do to protect those devices, and the network they’re on too.

1) Do your IoT homework

Just because that new smart device that’s caught your eye can connect to the internet doesn’t mean that it’s secure. Before you purchase, read up on reviews and comments from other customers. Look for news articles about the device manufacturer too. The fact of the matter is that some IoT device manufacturers are much better at baking security protocols into their devices than others, so look into their track record to see if you can uncover any issues with their products or security practices. Information such as this can help you make an even more informed choice.

2) Don’t use the default—Set a strong, unique password

One issue with many IoT devices is that they often come with a default username and password. This could mean that your device, and thousands of others just like it, all share the same credentials, which makes it painfully easy for a hacker to gain access to them as those default usernames and passwords are often published online.

When you purchase an IoT device, set a fresh password using a strong method of password creation.  And keep those passwords safe. Instead of keeping them on a notebook or on sticky notes, consider using a password manager. It acts as a database for all your passwords and stores new codes as you create them. As always, don’t store them in an unprotected file on your computer, which can be subject to a hack or data loss.

3) Use two-factor authentication

Our banks, many of the online shopping sites we use, and numerous other accounts use two-factor authentication to make sure that we’re logging in we really are who we say we are. In short, a username and password combo is an example of one-factor authentication. The second factor in the mix is something you, and only you, own, like your mobile phone. Thus when you log in and get a prompt to enter a security code that’s sent to your mobile phone, you’re taking advantage of two-factor authentication. If your IoT device supports two-factor authentication as part of the login procedure, put it to use and get that extra layer of security.

4) Secure your internet router

Your router acts as the internet’s gateway into your home. From there, it works as a hub that connects all of your devices—computers, tablets, and phones, along with your IoT devices as well. That means it’s vital to keep your router secure. A quick word about routers: you typically access them via a browser window and a specific address that’s usually printed somewhere on your router. If you’re renting your router or you’ve purchased it through your internet provider, they should have help documentation that can guide you through this the process. Likewise, if you purchased your own, your manual should provide the guidance you need.

As we mentioned above, the first thing to do is change the default password and name of your router if you haven’t done so already. Again, use a strong method of password creation. Also, change the name of your router. When you choose a new one, go with name that doesn’t give away your address or identity. Something unique and even fun like “Pizza Lovers” or “The Internet Warehouse” are options that mask your identity and are memorable for you too. While you’re making that change, you can also check that your router is using an encryption method, like WPA2, which will keep your signal secure. If you’re unsure, reach out to your internet provider or check the documentation that came with your router.

5) Set up a guest network specifically for your IoT devices

Just as you can offer your guests secure access that’s separate from your own devices, creating an additional network on your router allows you to keep your computers and smartphones separate from IoT devices. This way, if an IoT device is compromised, a hacker will still have difficulty accessing your other devices, like computers and smartphones, along with the data and info that you have stored on them. You may also want to consider investing in an advanced internet router that has built-in protection and can secure and monitor any device that connects to your network.

6) Use a VPN and a comprehensive security solution

Another line of defense that can hamper hackers is using a VPN, which allows you to send and receive data while encrypting your information so others can’t read it. When your data traffic is scrambled that way, it’s shielded from prying eyes, which helps protect your network and the devices you have connected to it.

7) Update!

As with our computers, laptops, phones, tablets, and apps, make sure you have the latest software updates for your IoT devices. The reasons here are the same: one, they’ll make sure you’re getting the latest functionality from your device; and two, updates often contain security upgrades. If there’s a setting that lets you receive automatic updates, enable it so that you always have the latest.

8) Protect your phone

You’ve probably seen that you can control a lot of your connected things with your smartphone. We’re using them to set the temperature, turn our lights on and off, and even see who’s at the front door. With that, it seems like we can add the label “universal remote control” our smartphones—so protecting our phones has become yet more important. Whether you’re an Android owner or iOS owner, get security software installed on your phone so you can protect all the things it accesses and controls—in addition to you and the phone as well.

And protect your other things too

And of course, let’s not forget our computers and laptops. While we’ve been primarily talking about IoT devices here, it’s a good reminder that computers and laptops need protection too. Using a strong suite of security software like McAfee® Total Protection, can help defend your entire family from the latest threats and malware, make it safer to browse, and look out for your privacy too.

If you connect it, protect it

We’re connecting our homes and ourselves with IoT devices at an tremendous rate—now at an average of 10 connected devices in our homes in the U.S. Gone by are the days when all we had was a computer or phone or two to look after. Now, even when we’re not in front of a laptop or have a smartphone in our hand, we’re still online, nearly all the time. Take this week to make sure that what you’ve connected is protected. Even that little lightbulb.

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