Experts: Smart homes carry hacking risk

Experts: Smart homes carry hacking risk

WISCONSIN (CBS 58) -- It wasn’t too long ago that having a personal computer in the house was rare. These days, consumers can buy smart thermostats, baby monitors, doorbells and even refrigerators that connect to the internet through your Wi-Fi router.

While all of these products have the potential to offer consumers convenience, cybersecurity experts like Tina Chang question whether they should be in your home.

“So imagine you connecting all those products on your Wi-Fi device. It’s basically leaving, potentially, a bunch of open windows to your house,” she said.

Tina Chang is CEO of Syslogic, based in Brookfield. 

She says your Wi-Fi router was likely built with security standards, but your network is only as strong as the weakest device.

“You think about products coming from overseas, China, Russia, other places where manufacturing is widely common, they're not necessarily creating products with security in mind,” Chang said.

To find out how easy it is to hack a house, we spoke with Timothy Winslow, widely considered to be one of the original computer hackers, part of a group called the “414s.”

The 414s hacked into Los Alamos, one of the most notorious nuclear research facilities in the world, and were the subject of a CNN Films documentary.

These days, Winslow is in Fond du Lac, he gave up hacking for decades of experience in network security. He says some of the devices in your house are easy prey for a hacker.

“It’s easy to grab the address of the refrigerator and listen to it, and mock it, and mirror it and get into your network,” Winslow said.

And once a hacker is in your network, Chang says they can get into anything that’s connected, like your computer. “Then they got into all your photos, all your personal information, all the passwords you enter into your online banking,” she said.

For now, the chances of your home getting hacked are low, but they are real. Both Chang and Winslow take steps to protect themselves. Chang says she has decided against a smart home.

“I’m a tech CEO, I’ve got very little connected in my home…I don’t want to spend the time to secure it all, I know better,” she said.

Winslow says he does virtually nothing over Wi-Fi.

“My computers are wired, even my TV,” he said.

Short of throwing away that new smart refrigerator, or running ethernet cable all over your house, there are some simple steps you can take to protect your network.

1. Buy products with high-level encryption

2. Update and strengthen passwords, use MFA

3. Keep firmware current, get to know your router

“If there is one thing that you can do to protect yourself, turn on something called MFA, that stands for multi-factor authorization,” Chang said.

Winslow has more ways to stay safe online, to learn more click here

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