Many of you saw this disturbing story in the news last week: A little girl was frightened when a male voice, claiming to be Santa Claus, spoke to her for nearly 10 minutes from the family’s new security camera in her bedroom.
A parent pulled the plug, disabling the camera, but fears about the dangers of these cameras and other “smart home” devices were expressed on social media, with many refusing to own such a product.
But I say don’t let these rare security breaches deprive you of owning a camera or other technology. These cases are completely avoidable as long as you take the necessary precautions.
The words “hacked” and “hacker” are often used in describing these stories. The definition of a hacker is simply “a person who uses computers to gain unauthorized access to data.” In this case involving the young girl, this indeed was a hacker who took over the device, and I understand how the thought of this occurring to any of us can be scary.
But I like to separate the word hacker into two meanings or scenarios: let’s call the first one hacker ‘A’, someone who should make us fearful, and hacker ‘B’, one who shouldn’t.
No doubt about it there are professional hackers, those who I would describe as the smartest minds in computer programming who are able to break through even the most sophisticated systems to wreak havoc. This would be hacker ‘A’.
When we hear about the Russians interfering in our elections or of how hospitals and city/county governments have had their data breached and held for ransom, this is done by groups or individuals who have something bigger in mind: either to extort a lot of money or disrupt or destroy our government. In the big picture we should all be concerned about that, but fortunately hacker ‘A’ is not interested in you or me.
Hacker ‘B’ is someone who can access a smart home device, or perhaps your Facebook page or email account. It’s someone who is an opportunist, looking to pounce on our mistakes.
We’ve all heard the phrase “crime of opportunity.” It’s when someone’s car is stolen, but we later learn the keys were in the car. It’s easy to mock that person for what we consider to be a stupid act, but the truth is many of us are doing things with our technology that are …well…kind of stupid.
How many times have we heard in the media or from our IT specialist at work the importance of a strong password? Yet, some of us continue to use “Password”, “12345” or our name or business. That’s the easiest way anyone, including those with limited technical skills, can get access to any of our devices.
But even if someone figures out your password, there’s still a way of preventing them access. It’s called two-factor authentication and it’s something offered now by just about everyone, including your email providers, banks, and social media accounts.
Here’s how it works: The crook thinks he has it made by figuring out your username and weak password, but when he tries to sign in, he is then asked to provide a code. That code is sent to the cellphone of the actual account holder, not only alerting the rightful owner that someone is trying to sign in as them, but gives peace of mind that without that code, no harm will be done.
Unfortunately, most are either unaware of two-factor authentication or believe it’s too much of a hassle to activate.
As for the cameras and other smart home devices that are being hacked, this too is preventable.
It may be hard to believe, but walk around your neighborhood with your phone’s setting on to search for available wireless networks and you’ll discover at least one household failing to secure their wireless router with a password. You can tell because the lock symbol is not shown.
These homes without any password at all have completely opened up every wireless device inside to any crook, in the same way an unlocked front door would for a thief.
Fortunately you and I can lock that door at any time and send the message to these crooks that they are not welcome in our house.
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