Connected devices in our home is common place, and the number of those connected devices in our home is growing. This means there are a growing number of opportunities for someone to access your home network and your devices on that network. Because of this we want to take a moment to go over some steps you can take to help make your home's smart devices safer and more secure.

Please keep in mind there is an ever growing array of smart home devices, we cannot go over specifics for each gadget. One general rule of thumb is to go through the device's documentation for initial security precautions. If your device does not have a guide, double check the manufacture's website.

Keep Your Gadgets Up to Date

Windows and macOS do a great job and downloading and installing updates. Most smart home gadgets do not. There are many reason why this could be or by default the devices does not need internet access, just access to devices on your home network.

This, ultimately, means it is on you to keep track of devices updates. This can be a pain when you have a lot of devices to deal with, but it is worth it in the end in order to safe guard your home network and the devices connected to it. Checking for updates for your smart devices can happen through the smartphone app for the device, if there is one, or by checking the manufacturer's website.

For a lot of smart home devices, updates will not release on a regular basis, unless a security exploit crops up. So, setup a schedule to sit down and run through checking for updates on all your devices. Doing this, at least, once a month is a good starting point.

If your smart home device does have an update, it could take a few steps to install. Some devices require you to connect it to your computer, which are usually for devices that do not have access to the internet. Other devices will allow you to update them via Bluetooth with an application on your phone.

An update routine extends to all of your electronics in your home, not just smart devices. Check for updates for you computers, phones, TVs, sound bars, and especially routers. Routers these days are doing better at alerting you an update is available, provided you log into their admin page. Most manufacture websites will tell you if there are updates and how you can update your devices.

Review Your Device Security Settings

Technology today is very much set it and forget. It is very nice to get up and running with new devices and then never have to worry about them. But, often some of the default settings can be too relaxed on security. We recommend that if your device has a settings menu, that you go through each option. If there are settings you are not familiar with, then check the manufactures websites for a better explanation on what the setting does.

Some key settings to look out for:

  • Internet access
    • If the device does not really need an internet connection run and does not have a check or auto update function, disable it's internet access. Only give it access when you know an update is available.
  • Password for Settings Menu / Access
    • If the device has the option to create a password to get into the settings menu or to use the device, make sure to set a password. Do not make it something easy to guess. Password managers can help out here.
    • Also, if the device already has a password to access it, change it. Default passwords for various devices have a long history of being documented online.

Once again, this routine should extend to all of your household devices. If the device or account to access your device offers two-step verification, enabled it. Also, if your device sends you notifications, like a security camera, to an email account, make sure you have a strong password for that email account. If a hacker gains access to your email, they could potentially see security snapshots and be able to determine when you are home or not.

Be Smart When Buying Gadgets

Sticking with bigger name companies for your smart home gear does have it's benefits, even though they cost more. Samsung and LG can still be hacked just as the next company, but they at least have the resources to fix flaws in their devices if one  is found. Newer or smaller companies, though having cheaper devices, may not ever fix found flaws or support could hard to work with when you run into issues. Devices that do not have a clear way of getting a hold of support is usually a sign that they probably will not fix security flaws in their devices.

In this day and age, we see many innovating smart devices, thanks to sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Always do your research when buying into these products. Look into the company and see what security measures they have in place for the device you are thinking of purchasing.

Keep in mind many new companies have a habit of starting out with a bang but then disappearing just as fast as they exploded onto the market. The last thing you want is a smart lock or voice-activated device, that does not function anymore.

Keep It In The Family

Because of the reasons stated above, it is best to get devices that all fall under the same umbrella. By limiting the number of smart home platforms you install in your home, you limit your exposure to attacks. Some smart home umbrellas include:

Once you have picked a system, we recommend you find products that work within that system. Some systems, like Samsung SmartThings and Google Home, will work with each other. But, that is not always the case.

Now, if you already have a miss mash of smart home devices, trying to get your setup under one or two umbrella's could prove difficult. Luckily, BullGuard’s Internet of Things Scanner is handy at helping to determine if any of your smart home devices are on the Shodan site. Shodan is a search site that scans the internet for any network device that is publicly accessible. Basically, if you find one of your devices is listed on that site, then someone could hack into it, so disconnect that device from the internet immediately. Then, check for updates and your security setting for that device.

Pay Attention to Your Router

The router in your home is the gate keeper to everything connected to the internet in your home. Smart devices, computers, mobile phones, game systems. Keeping it secure is the key to improving your home network security. The big three things you need to do are:

  1. Make sure the router's firmware is up to date
  2. Change the default username and password for the settings menu to something other then the default password and username.
  3. And let your devices connect to the internet only if they need to.

For example, you have a Roku plugged into your TV. The TV may have smart features as well, but they will not be as useful as the Roku is. Because of this, your TV does not need to be connected to the internet, at least not all of the TV. Remember today's TVs will get firmware updates that might fix issues, so it's good to have it connect to the internet every now and then to check for updates.

One special note about all devices that need internet access, be cautious about devices that prompt you to automatically configure your router for you. They do not need access to do that, so do not give that device the username and password to your router's settings menu. Additionally, most router's these days have a list of devices that are connected to your router, which you can control internet access too or block from your network.

Upgrade Your Router If It's Old

Router's are getting better at keeping themselves up-to-date, but you still have to do some manual work. But, if you find that your router is not getting updates or the last update is already years old, it might be time upgrade. Today, many routers are built with smart home security in mind. Many will monitor your device's network traffic and will block common routes used by hackers and malware. Some will even go as far as blocking devices that appear to have poor security settings. Two routers we recommend, that have these features, are the Asus Blue Cave ($170) or the Luma Whole Home WiFi (3-Pack) ($135). If you rent a router from your Internet Service Provider, make sure to ask them for an upgraded router. But really, you're better off using your own router.

Buy a Network Security Device

There are also devices you can purchase that are dedicated to just monitoring your smart home for vulnerabilities. These are nice options if you do not want to  upgrade your router. Some of these devices are:

We will note that a lot of these devices have not ample third party testing. So, the claims made by the manufacture are just that, with no solid user proof to back them up. You are more then welcome to try them out, bu do so with caution. If you are using a device listed above, then leave some comments below on your experiences.

In the end, the best protection of your devices is to keep them up to date. Check for software/firmware updates, password protect them, if available, and make sure they are hard passwords.

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I love new gadgets. Chance are you are too. But, just because it's shiny and new doesn't mean you throw common sense out the door. Below I'm going to go over the most common mistakes I see people make when buying new gadgets.

Not Checking When an Upgrade is Due

Everyone should know that a new iPhone comes out every September. Common sense would dictate that that buying an iPhone in July or August is going to be a waste when the new phone is coming out in a few months. Especially if that new phone has new features the older phone does not have.

Now, not all tech companies will have such a strict upgrade schedule. But, thanks to the internet you can get a relatively close idea of what new gadgets are coming out in the next few months. Point and case, the new Samsung Galaxy S9 comes out next month, so don't going buying a Samsung Galaxy S8.

The general rule of thumb is if there is a gadget you're thinking of buying, like a cell phone, keeping up on tech news can help prevent you buying something that could be replaced in a few months. This is not an exact science and not everything is always clear cut and dry, but you will get a better understanding on a product's upgrade cycle.

Not Checking for Compatibility

I'm not going to lie, buying a phone case is not a simple process, especially online. You have to check and double check to make sure the case you're ordering is the right one for you phone. But, the same thing can be said for buying a sound bar when your TV might be five years old.

When you keep your gadgets fairly new, typically less than two years, chances are you will not run into too many problems with compatibility. But for gadgets older than five years you might start to run into issues with older gadgets working with your newer gadgets. Will your new laptop work with your old projector? Will those USB cables work with the new phone? Does your Blu-ray player allow for 4k videos for you new 4k TV? If you answered "No" to any of those types of questions, you might need to buy adapters or upgrade additional gadgets. And if you do not know the answer, then asking a sales person or research on the internet might help find an answer. And when you research on the internet, the first place you should go to is the manufacture's website.

Another issue is cross platform use. Apple products generally play perfectly with Apple products and nothing else. Unless Apple chooses to work with certain product, chances are you might run into some issues. Microsoft and Google products general play better with other products, outside of Microsoft and Google products. But, you still might run into some odd bugs.

In the end, doing your homework on your current gadgets and determining how they will work with the newer gadgets will go a long way from preventing buyer's remorse or spending additional money. Also, when there are multiple versions of a gadget, like computers, that have various levels of performance, make sure you buy the one that will fit your needs currently and in the future.

Not Doing Your Homework

Even though it's 2018, many people will still walk into their local electronic store and see what catches their eye. The problem is, the products that have most shock and awe factor, on the display floor, may not be the best product to buy or the best product for you.

A perfect example is a super flashy and colorful demo video playing on a big 65-inch 4k OLED TV. That TV looks damn impressive on the display floor. But will it fit in your TV spot in the living room? How many HDMI ports does it have? Can you get your Blu-ray, your PS4, your Chromecast, your Roku, and all other devices hooked up to the TV without any issues?

I know I am beating a dead horse here, but knowledge is power. Knowing the specifications of the gadgets you buy helps you make an informed decision. Most companies know that shiny, bright, colorful, sharp images are designed to make something look amazing. In your world, that TV might not look the same as it does on the display floor. That phone might not work correctly for your life. That stereo might not sound like a live concert in your living room.

Once you know more about the products you're buying you will be able to determine which gear is good and which items are cheap. And you will know when gear is cheap because it's actually a bargain, not just cheap components. If you're ever doubting yourself, then step away and go back and do some more research.

Not Spending Enough

Sometimes because the gadget is cheap, does not always mean it's going to work the best for your needs. The money you save might be canceled out when you have to upgrade that gadget sooner. There are times when spending some extra money up front can truly mean the hardware is going to last longer.

In the real world, this means that instead of buying the $800 dollar laptop that works for what you need today, you spend $1200 for the laptop that has more space and faster CPU. Because you spent that extra $400 you ensure that laptop will run faster now, but run smoother three to four years down the line. The $800 laptop might not hold up well, due to hardware and performance demands, a year from now.

The general rule of thumb is that products with multiple configurations to choose from, you will find that some upgrades can give you a lot more power or performance for not a whole lot of extra cost. This is not a definite rule, but it's a good starting point. The multiple configurations to choose from plays right back to doing your research. If you have taken your time to learn about the options, you will be able to determine when something is a good use of your money.

Not Shopping Around

These days most people take "guaranteed low prices" for granted. There was a time when people had to drive store to store to find the lowest price. The problem with "guaranteed low prices" is that most people do not take the time to still double check if that statement is true. It's so easy to compare prices, thanks to the internet.

When you compare prices, it's not about comparing a retail site against a retail site, it’s about watching prices over time. There are plenty of tools online to help you monitor prices, so you really have no excuse to not compare prices. The Camelizer is great for tracking Amazon prices. Price.com helps with looking for cheaper details elsewhere on the web. The Amazon app for Android and iOS will even let you scan barcodes in a store to see if products are cheaper on the web.

Now, just because you found the product cheaper online does not always mean it's cheaper. Do you have to pay shipping and handling? Is it just the cheaper configuration of the same item? Sometimes you think you found the item cheaper someplace else but turns out it was not exactly the same item you were hoping to buy.

Hopefully everything I have talked about has expanded your purchase power knowledge. Technology is always changing. Sometimes you buy something only to find out it was not exactly what you expected. Knowledge is power in this day and age. Leave a comment below and let me know about your best tips to make sure you do not screw up with buying new gadgets.

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