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Smart home devices give reason to rethink cybersecurity

The pluses of adding a smart device to your home were attractive before a pandemic made us all mostly housebound. As anxieties connected to COVID-19 crawl into the fall and winter, the convenience and cost-savings that technology like Amazon Alexa and Google Nest provide is seemingly more appealing than ever.

Those enticements should also be paired with some well-warranted concern.

Cybersecurity is having a tough time keeping pace with the demand for smart technology, leaving users’ valuable personal information vulnerable to hackers. A look at some consumer trends reveals the problem may be getting worse.

Smart-home revenues are now expected to reach $85 billion in 2020 — a 4% jump over last year. And within the next 12 months, more than 80 million U.S. households reportedly intend to purchase a new type of smart-home device. By 2026, the smart-device market is projected to bring in $317 billion in revenue, up 5% over pre-COVID-19 forecasts.

As the number of devices piles up, so does the kind of data scammers long for. Smart-home products keep track of unique personal information, such as when you are home or away and your daily routine. Many of them also connect to some of your most-frequently-accessed online accounts, like streaming services, which are powered by payment information.

A hacker using a smart device to get a hold of that data could use the information to steal your identity — and without much effort. Due to high demand, some smart-home devices are rushed to market without sufficiently addressing their security measures and many come with inadequate user manuals. Plus, if a hacker is able to access one device, they can likely gain entry to others connected to the same network.

It is difficult for users to know when their smart device is secure right now. So, as you consider adding one to your home, keep these Better Business Bureau tips in mind:

w Trusted brands only. If you’re looking to add a smart device to your home, reputation means everything. Prioritize products made by established brands with a track record of providing quality protection. Devices made by start-ups or lesser-known brands may be more affordable, but you’re usually sacrificing the security of your data. Consumer reviews of popular brands are available at BBB.org;

w Change your passwords. Then do it again. And then consider changing them one more time after that. Reusing the same username and password exposes all your accounts if one account gets hacked. Always use unique login information;

w Secure your network. Your home Wi-Fi network is the gateway to your data, so act like it. Set up a password for your modem or router. Don’t rely on default passwords for your smart-home devices either. Those are easy obstacles for hackers to work around;

w Shop with a credit card. Link all smart-home devices that require a form of payment to a credit-card account. In case your device is hacked, a credit card provides additional protections. It’s easier to dispute charges that you didn’t approve. Debit cards, prepaid cards or gift cards do not have the same protections as a credit card.

Learn more about how you can improve cybersecurity practices at trust-bbb.org.

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Roseann Freitas, marketplace manager Hawai‘i, Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific, 900 Fort Street Mall, Ste. 1310, Honolulu, HI 96813 260-0643, bbb.org Start With Trust.

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