As smart home devices become more popular, they will become bigger targets for hackers. So it behooves us to get ahead of the curve by securing our home appliances, using these tips from security experts who have closely studied smart home accessories.
Research before you buy
When shopping for an internet-connected home device like a smart speaker, lighting system or television set, a good rule of thumb is to go with a trusted brand.
Larger, well-regarded companies like Amazon or Google have a background in developing products with security in mind, said Liviu Arsene, an analyst for Bitdefender, which sells security hardware for protecting smart home accessories. Before buying a product, consumers should do a web search on it to see if the company regularly issues software updates that fix security vulnerabilities, he said.
People should also carefully read company privacy policies. David Britton, a vice president in the fraud and identity department of Experian, the credit reporting agency, said people should be curious about whether companies themselves were a threat to user privacy.
"What are they capturing about you?" he said. "Is the data leaving the device? Is it being sent back to the mother ship?"
Consider the smart speakers from Amazon and Google. Amazon said its Alexa smart assistant, which is used in its Echo speakers, automatically downloads software updates to defend against new security threats. Data from the Echo is also uploaded to Amazon's servers only after people utter the wake word "Alexa," the company said. That minimizes the likelihood that the device will record conversations unrelated to requests intended for Alexa.
Google said its Home speaker similarly issued regular software updates and employed advanced security features, like a technique that disables the device if its software is tampered with. The company added that the speaker processed speech only after the words "O.K. Google" or "Hey Google" were detected.
But other large brands occasionally engage in behavior that customers may find objectionable. The smart TV maker Vizio, for example, made headlines with revelations from the investigative news site ProPublica that it kept a detailed record of customer viewing habits and shared it with advertisers, who could then use the information to identify other devices you owned.