For those of us of a certain age, devices that let us adjust the temperature of our home remotely, vacuum our floors without getting off the couch and email a grocery list from a touch panel on our fridge, make it seem like the futuristic cartoon world we remember from childhood has come true. Even the term “Internet of Things” (IoT) wasn’t a household word a few years ago -- and now many of us have at least one connected or smart device in our home in addition to our laptop and mobile phone. But many Canadians don’t realize that their connected devices could make them vulnerable to cyber attacks.

What is the IoT?

The IoT is a term used to describe the large number of devices that connect to the Internet. IoT devices that we might have at home include smart TVs, gaming systems, speakers, smart thermostats, smoke alarms and lights. They could also include security systems like smart home locking systems, garage door openers, home monitoring systems and cameras. There are even smart home appliances like fridges, coffee makers and vacuums. Your fitness tracker and blood pressure monitor, if they connect to the Internet, are also part of the IoT.

How IoT devices can make you vulnerable to cyber attacks

Anything that connects to the Internet means that your information could be available to hackers if it’s not properly protected. And while theft of personal information is a risk, the nature of IoT devices also mean that a hacker could take control of that device - like hacking your garage door opener and stealing your stuff.

While most people realize that creating strong WiFi settings and securing home computers and mobile phones is important, they don’t update or change the security settings on their IoT devices – and these weak default passwords and settings make it easy for hackers to turn them into remote-controlled “bots” that can be used to spread viruses and malware. Botnets built of IoT devices can, and have, been used to launch large-scale distributed denial-of-service attacks – crashing targeted websites and servers.

So what can you do?

Public Safety Canada is urging Canadians to connect smarter (#ConnectSmarter) to protect your privacy and security. Here are three simple steps you can take:

  1. Ensure your home network WiFi password is strong and can’t be easily be guessed by anyone.
  2. Change the manufacturer’s default user names for all of the devices that connect to the internet and change the passwords. Be sure to create a strong, unique password.
  3. Consider setting up a guest network at home for your IoT devices, separate from the main network for your computer and phone. This will limit the damage from a cyber attack.

Find more tips on Public Safety Canada’s website.

As always, it’s important to ensure that you download and maintain security software for your home computers and stay on top of updates to the operating systems on your computer and phone too. With the number of IoT devices installed worldwide predicted to be more than 20 billion by next year, protecting your information and devices from hackers is a good use of the time you saved not having to vacuum or hand-write that grocery list.