March 20th, 2017

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If you work from home, technology is your friend. Just a couple decades ago the idea you could be a stay-at-home mom who also makes a living wage was pretty unrealistic. Today, it’s commonplace, and that’s due in large part to technology. The internet, Wi-Fi, laptops and smartphones are all tools that give working moms the ability to be at home while continuing their careers. There’s one other way technology is helping us industrious mothers: the smart home.

Office workers networking

It helps you manage, control and monitor your household from wherever you are—your home office, the soccer field sidelines or on vacation—with your smartphone. Devices such as smart thermostats, smart lighting, smart washing machines and smart ovens help you run your home more efficiently.

If you are going to start taking advantage of these great conveniences, however, it’s important to do all you can to secure them. Anything connected to the internet—your computer, smart TV, Roku or smart crockpot—is a potential entry point for hackers. What’s so bad about a hacker getting “into” your crockpot? Other than a ruined dinner, the hacker can use that access to your network to leapfrog from crockpot to iMac, and once there, your business and personal files are exposed. Hackers can also use connected devices to create “Botnet armies” to take down websites, as happened late last year.

It’s very difficult to stop a determined hacker, but you can certainly make it harder for them, and less likely that opportunist attackers will target you. There are three important steps you can take to make sure your devices are more secure.

1.     Secure Your Passwords

When you set up any internet-connected device, always change the password. If a device doesn’t give you the option to do this, do not use it. Default passwords that aren’t changed are an open invitation—they don’t even require any skill to “hack.”

Make sure you choose a unique and complicated password for every device you use, just as you do for all the websites you use. Make sure it is not a word found in the dictionary, include uppercase and lowercase letters as well as numbers and symbols, and make it at least eight characters long. Using a password manager like LastPass or 1Password makes this a lot easier.

2.     Create a Separate Smart Home Wi-Fi Network

Most modern Wi-Fi routers let you create a guest network that has a different name and password from your primary network. Put all your connected devices on this network—smart speakers, smart TVs, smart lightbulbs, smart doorbells, anything that connects wirelessly to the internet but doesn’t have business or personal files on it. Keep your computers and laptops on the main network. By separating your computers from the guest network, you prevent hackers from being able to jump from your smart thermostat into your personal computer.

Setting up a guest network is simple to do. Access your router’s setting using a web browser (by typing your IP address into the address bar). Every router has a slightly different procedure, but essentially, you’ll need to go into settings and find the Guest Network option. Create a network name and a (strong) password, then enable the network.

Now, whenever you get a new smart home device that needs Wi-Fi access, simply choose this network rather than your main one. You also want to go back and switch any existing devices over to this network. It’s important to put all the devices on the same network, especially if they communicate with each other. Otherwise, they may not work properly. You’ll also need to put your smartphone on this network when you want to use it to control the devices inside the house, but you can switch back to your primary network for all other uses.

3.     Hide Your Wi-Fi Network and Disable WPS and UPnP

While you’re in the router setting, it’s a good idea to hide your Wi-Fi networks from public view. This means people will have to know its name as well as the password to connect to it. This won’t prevent a dedicated hacker from sniffing out the signal, but it does at least shield you from prying eyes. Another easy security fix is to disable WPS and UPnP on the router, which are convenience features that allow you and others to bypass your firewall. Unless you are a big-time online gamer, you don’t need these, and you’re safer with them turned off.

Take these steps to protect your smart home devices and you can rest assured knowing your home is easily managed and—most importantly—safe and secure.

 

Jennifer Tuohy is a working-from-home mom of two children who writes about her passion for tech for The Home Depot. She provides helpful advice on setting up your Wi-Fi network and preventing it from getting hacked. You can find a wide range of wireless router options, like those Jennifer discusses, from The Home Depot here.

 

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