Smart home devices seem great—but are there steps you can take to make sure you’re using them safely and protecting your information and privacy? We asked the pros.

By Daniel Bortz
Updated December 17, 2018
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For many of us, the thought of smart home devices conjures up images of Jetsons-style living—houses outfitted with nifty technology ranging from voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and smart TVs to High-IQ showers and kitchen appliances. But in today’s era of high-profile data breaches at companies such as Experian, Facebook, and UnderArmour, how safe are smart home devices, really?

According to Eric Blank,editor at TheSmartCave.com, smart home products are relatively safe to use—if you take the right precautions.

“I don’t worry about my smart home devices getting hacked any more than I worry about my smartphone’s camera and microphone getting hijacked,” Blank says. “[But] if you are someone who regularly has their email hacked or their computer infected with a virus, you may want to brush up on your security practices before you dive into the smart home.”

Max Eddy, security analyst at PCMag.com, recommends doing a little homework before you buy a smart home device.

“It's important that you know what the device does before you bring it home and add it to your network,” he says.

Wondering how to keep your information secure while using smart home devices? Try these tips from technology experts.

Jasmin Merdan/Getty Images

1
Understand privacy policies

Many smart home devices track a user’s behaviors and transmit that information to the manufacturer. So, before purchasing a smart product, find out what data the device collects and who that data gets shared with, advises Eddy.

“This might not all be on the package, so it helps to look for news stories about particular products,” he says.

2
Keep devices updated with the latest firmware

Oftentimes, a smart home product’s software updates will update the device’s security protections, says Eddy. Check for updates periodically if your device doesn’t update automatically.

3
Change the default passwords

Many consumers make the mistake of using a smart home product’s default username and password, even though attackers often exploit preset passwords when attacking smart home devices, Eddy says.

Blank agrees. “In the event that a device has a security vulnerability and your password is stolen, you don’t want all of your devices to suddenly be at risk,” he says.

Pro tip: Don’t reuse the same password, says Austin, Texas–based home-technology expert Stacey Higginbotham. Also, consider using a password manager, such as LastPass or Zoho Vault, to create unique and strong passwords for your devices.

4
Use two-factor authentication

Though not available on all smart devices, two-factor authentication—a log-in setting that requires you to verify your identity using two different methods (e.g., a password and a cell phone text message)—adds an extra layer of security.

“Nest offers this, and I'm calling on the industry to do more,” Higginbotham says.

5
Avoid brand-new products

Wait to try the latest, greatest gadget. “I love being on the cutting edge and testing out the latest products,” says Blank. “However, if security was my number one concern, I would let other early adopters be the guinea pigs.”

6
Secure your network

Using public Wi-Fi for your smart home devices is a bad idea. “Nefarious attackers can use what is known as a man in the middle attack,” Blank says. “If you connect through an unsecured network, they can access any data you transmit through your smartphone.”