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Dave Pelland has extensive experience covering the business use of technology, networking and communications tools by companies of all sizes. Dave's editorial and corporate experience includes more than 10 years editing an electronic technology and communications industry newsletter for a global professional services firm.

Avoiding Security Risks From Connected Devices

Avoiding Security Risks From Connected Devices

Connecting devices such as cameras, thermostats and sensors to our business and home networks can increase convenience and help reduce costs, but connected devices can also create security risks if we’re not careful.

The advantages of connected devices can be compelling. In an industrial setting, for instance, temperature sensors can help a manufacturer maintain the ideal operating environment for equipment. Similarly, moisture sensors can help farmers optimize their irrigation schedules and water use.

In an office or home setting, it’s easy to connect a wireless-enabled printer to a network without having to connect cables or tinker with device settings. Internet-connected cameras can alert you to intruders, connected thermostats can help increase energy efficiency, and digital assistants can help remind you of upcoming events.

In the rush to take advantage of these devices and their features, however, potential security risks are easy to overlook. The fact that these devices connect to the Internet increase the ways we can use them, but the fact that these devices connect to the Internet means they’re vulnerable to hackers and malware.

Just like computers, so-called smart devices can be compromised by hackers and used to attack the rest of the network, or to deliver malicious software such as ransomware.

Small business owners connecting smart devices to their networks need to understand the potential security issues and take the appropriate precautions.

Connected Risks

The primary cyber danger associated with connected devices is that hackers can use a vulnerability in a security camera, for instance, to access and attack other resources on your network. In recent examples, two of the largest payment card breaches experienced by retailers resulted from hackers compromising heating and air-conditioning systems, and using that access to breach point-of-sale system data.

Security researchers say it’s only a matter of time before hackers compromise an Internet-connected thermostat, sensor or camera and gain access to a company’s servers – opening the door to online fraud or the theft of customer data that in turn enables identity theft or other forms of cyber-crime.

Secure Your Defenses

The most important step you can take in reducing the security risks posed by connected devices is changing the devices’ default passwords. Those passwords are easy to find online, and hackers have developed automated tools that search for connected devices and attempt to log in with default user IDs and passwords created by the manufacturer.

Another helpful step is making sure the device’s software is updated on a regular schedule. Most manufacturers issue updates in response to discovered security vulnerabilities, and it’s important to install those updates as they’re released.

Along with updating a device’s internal software, known as firmware, it’s also important to update companion apps used to access the devices via the Internet.

If you’re connecting devices to a business network, it’s a good idea to consider creating a guest network on your Wi-Fi router, and connect the device to that network. This is relatively easy to do with most newer routers, and will allow the device to connect to the Internet while reducing the risk of a compromise affecting other devices on the broader network.

By taking appropriate precautions before connecting a device to the Internet and your office or home network, you can get the benefits of the device’s capabilities while reducing the associated risks.

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