According to AAA, more than one-third of Americans will head out on at least one vacation in 2017, many of them in that all-too-short window between Memorial Day and Labor Day. If you’re among those planning your getaway, keeping your home safe while you’re out and about is a must do. That involves common sense maneuvers like setting timers for the lights (to make it look like you’re home) and cancelling newspaper and mail delivery (to avoid signaling that you’re not), but it also means making sure your home security system won’t let you down. It may not be the panacea you think it is.
The fact that your security system is now likely wireless (and thus networked with other systems in your home) makes you even more vulnerable than you may think, explains Joe Gervais, a LifeLock cybersecurity expert. “In recent years, security researchers have done a [deep dive] into popular systems.” They found three major vulnerabilities: Criminals in remote locations (think: across the world as well as across town) can take over your security cameras to case your house, as well as see if anyone’s home. They can shut down your system, essentially disabling it, but also unlocking doors and windows. And they can jam the system so no signal can be sent out during a break in.
What can you do about all of this? Like identity theft, it’s nearly impossible to be 100 percent safe – but there are some precautions you can take.
Decide if remote access is worth it. Sure, it’s nice to have a security system with all the latest bells and whistles. Who wouldn’t want to peek in on their belongings just to be sure things are hunky-dory from across the country. But Gervais says to take your “creeper comfort factor” into account. If you can look into your home from afar, chances are pretty good a hacker will eventually figure out how to do it, too. A simpler system that alarms the doors and windows against intruders might be a better call.
Buy a good system – and keep it up to date. If you do go the higher-tech route, do your homework to determine how tamper-resistant your system is and whether it includes newer features like the ability to ferret out jamming devices. Then, as you do with the rest of your technology, make sure to install any updates that come your way; they often contain security patches. If your system hasn’t been releasing security patches to deal with trouble spots, that’s an issue in and of itself, says Gervais. (If you do have an older system you can buy an anti-jammer and install it on a phone or other device that interfaces with your security system. It will let you know if the signal fails or has been jammed.)
Make sure your network is secure… Step one is to make sure that your wireless router is set up to be secure. You do this by changing the default settings (such as device passwords and encryption). Check the device’s security settings to make sure encryption is enabled both on your network and on your devices. And as for those passwords – we’ve gone through this before, but they should be at least 12 characters, contain letters numbers and special characters, not come together to form something you could read aloud, and used only on this important system. (A quick and effective shortcut is to use 4 or 5 random – and unrelated – words together as your password.)
…Or separate your networks. It’s simply not a good idea to have your security system on the same network as not just your computer and phone (and other devices it needs to connect with), but your baby monitor, DVR and overall Internet of Things. You’ll be safer if you divide and conquer. Put the computer, phone and other devices you use to transact on one network and the Internet of Things devices and your security system on another. You can separate the two using a VPN (virtual personal network) or activate the guest network that comes with your regular Wi-Fi device, Gervais says.
Finally, if you still have a wired system, there are a few precautions you should take as well. Test your system to make sure it’s working before you head out of town. This is particularly important if you’ve had any recent construction done in or around your property – a cut wire may render the system useless, but not all systems are wired to let you know that has happened. Oh, and whether you’re wired or not, it’s still a good idea to postpone putting your beach photos on social media until you return — and alert your neighbors that you’re going away.
Posted by LifeLock Educational Advisor Jean Chatzky