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The Anti-Hacking Guide – 2018 Edition

In insight / By Hollie Coote / 15 August 2018

In the homes of today, TV’s, kitchen appliances and sound systems can all be connected through our devices, which means they can also be hacked. Make sure to keep yourself and your home safe from cyber-criminals with the top tips of 2018 so far.

Nowadays smart homes and smartphones are making our lives easier, but unfortunately, they’re also making it easier for criminals to sneak in. Instead of broken doors and windows, people come home to locked smart systems and emptied bank accounts (in the worst case scenarios of course). With everything from fridges to cameras monitoring our movements & spending habits, our lives are now more under scrutiny than ever before, but by who?

Every day millions of emails are sent and received, many of us opening them without much regard for what they contain, especially when browsing on our smartphones. However, amongst all of the work memos, sale offers and dog pictures, a hacker may be hiding. Often posing as a reputable organisation such as your bank, hackers use phishing scams to gain access to passwords, usernames & other personal data, leaving users homes and devices vulnerable to attack.

This means that the first tip to protecting yourself is protecting your emails. Make sure never to reply to emails asking for personal data, especially if claiming to be from a bank or data processor. Sometimes, simply not replying isn’t enough, just opening some emails or clicking an embedded link could allow the hacker access to your accounts. Always make sure that you know who the sender is before you open or engage with any emails. Check the sender, if the email address looks suspicious, or is full of numbers and special characters, delete it!

Make sure to always install proper malware protection. Any device connected to the internet should ideally be protected by firewalls and antivirus software, however, this becomes more difficult when applying this step to some smart home devices. How are you supposed to add anti-virus to your fridge for example?

Last year, Accenture reported privacy risks and security concerns put off 47% of potential customers polled from buying smart devices. In order to secure all devices in your home, you'll need to secure the network they're on. Smart devices need to connect to the internet to send and receive data, so if your Wi-Fi network is unsecured, so is your information! Make sure to use proper encryption protocol when setting up your Wi-Fi (or ask your installer to do so for you) and change the preset username and password as soon as the installations complete. Ask your network provider about the Firewall protection that your router offers.

It might seem like a far-fetched scenario, but hackers have been known to leave devices, USB sticks and CD’s infected with malware and viruses outside homes and workplaces. They rely on human curiosity in order for their hacks to work, but on average, almost 50% of people will plug in a found USB in order to investigate the contents. Having proper malware protection will partially guard against this, so common sense must also be employed.

If you have an iPhone or any apple tech you probably haven’t had to worry about installing malware protection software, just ensure that all software updates are installed as soon as they appear and vet apps that are downloaded properly and you're covered! If you have an android phone however, it’s a good idea to follow the same protocol as you would with a computer, install security and software updates regularly, be careful what you download and click on, and invest in some robust antivirus software. Some providers such as Norton offer cover on all devices with one subscription, so if you have a few android smart devices it’s worth the investment. When installing security software, make sure to opt-in for automatic updates, as often these are patched out in response to breaches or potential breaches which can happen at any time of day. Make sure that you don't miss a single one with auto install switched on.

This wouldn’t be an anti-hacking guide without repeating the mantra, Secure Your Smartphone! As previously discussed, in our Security VS Usability article, a strong passcode or password is a must. Almost all Smart devices can be controlled through your phone, so securing it is essential to protecting your home and your data. Ensure that if you have facial recognition, touch ID or voice activation that there is also a password required, at least on phone waking, restarting or after long periods of inactivity.

Location tracking and remote phone disabling software are also becoming increasingly popular options for some people, allowing you to remotely, lock, wipe, and track your device should it go missing. Utilise the features that your phone offers, such as password manager rather than auto-logins. This will ensure that should the device fall into the wrong hands they won't be able to access everything without having to attempt password cracking first. After securing the handset against would be hackers, you should now secure it against yourself!

Even the most tech savvy of us can make the mistake of letting our lock screen notifications spill the details on our lives to anyone that may be peeking. Meeting reminders, messages, notifications from your bank, all of these are able to show in a lock screen and should have their permissions set individually. If you keep sensitive data on your devices, or just things you'd rather add an extra layer of protection to, you could lock individual apps or files with passcodes. This ensures that should your phone fall into the wrong hands, if they manage to get past the lock screen they won't be able to access any sensitive files or private information.

An important thing to remember when buying smart devices is that they really are smart! Do you know the capabilities of all of your tech? Some smart TV’s can “listen” to conversations in order to serve you personalised ads and subscription offers. They also record data on what you watch, how (live watching, skipping ads, recording and binge-watching etc.) and when. Smart fridges can monitor your eating and spending habits, and again, this data can be shared to tailor ads and offers to you. If you aren’t comfortable with sharing this data or want to check out what data is being gathered, visit the settings menu and adjust to suit your lifestyle and needs. Smart cameras sometimes used as nanny cams, are also known to be always watching. Any devices with cameras can be hacked to monitor the house, its occupants and the comings and goings of those occupants. Again, these controls can be easily accessed and monitored, or alternatively, cover or close cameras when you don’t want them to be used.

Securing your home and your devices is great, but if you login to unsecured public Wi-Fi you could be exposing yourself to cyber criminals. It may seem like a good way to dodge data charges; however, these open networks are often easily hacked and can leave any devices connected to it, vulnerable to attack. Sometimes your phone doesn’t give you the heads up to choose and will be set to auto-connect to open networks, make sure to check your phone's settings and turn off auto connect options. Instead, opt for private networks or safe hotspots, alternatively, use your data if its available to you! Once you’ve stopped your phone from potentially giving a pathway to hackers, you could also disable Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS when you're not using them for an extra layer of privacy. Some apps will track this data even when you're not using them.

Snapchat maps recently caused a scandal when users found that the app gave map coordinates to their locations, and even described what they were doing and who with! Keeping Bluetooth and GPS on all the time also opens you up to hackers who can use this information to locate you and access your phone remotely.

Make sure that you don’t overshare on Social Media. We all know somebody that uses social media like a personal journal, detailing every moment of their lives, however more than just oversharing they could be providing criminals with all of the information they need to steal their identity.

As a general rule, don’t share your home address on social media, either in your details, locations tags or photographs. Don’t share your full name, full date of birth and full education and work history. Don’t tag yourself as being away from home if nobody is staying in or watching over your property. These may seem like simple steps, but all added up there's a lot of personal data there up for grabs. For networking, you might want to keep your real name, but for purely social accounts you could look into using a persona or pseudonym. Sharing your favourite films and food may seem innocuous, but over time, criminals can build up a pretty detailed profile of you and your lifestyle if preventative measures aren’t taken.

So, if you have smart devices, make sure they don’t leave you bottom of the class when it comes to privacy by checking their security settings, keeping cameras under control when you don’t want to monitor or be monitored, keep all software up to date and make sure that you keep common sense in mind when interacting with anything that’s been sent to you. Smart tech doesn’t have to be intrusive, and if utilised correctly and safely it can make our food fresher, our lights brighter and our music louder, all whilst keeping us safe in our homes.

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Hollie Coote

Hollie Coote

Hollie is a freelance writer for various companies and writes for the Nasstarian on a wide range of subjects.

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