Bringing New Tech Home

What’s on your holiday wish list this year? Maybe you are hoping for a new tablet or phone. Or a fancy video baby monitor to see your little one while he or she sleeps. Perhaps one of your kids has asked for a new gaming device. Most families end up with some new technology during the holidays, and these are all great gifts, but did you realize that they come along with hidden privacy challenges?

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In August 2016, there were news reports of a woman in Texas whose twins’ room camera was being live-streamed online. Someone saw the stream and shared a screenshot of it on social media in hopes that it would reach the owner, which it fortunately did.

How did this happen? One of the twins wanted to play an online computer game with friends. She accidentally connected to an unprotected server and hackers were then able to tap into all of their internet-connected devices.

Talking to kids about internet safety is part of the solution. But there are other safeguards you can implement. First, change default passwords for all internet-connected devices. Follow this process:

  1. Go to Google and type in “what’s my ip address?”
  2. Search for that IP address on censys.io or shodan.io

If you find a list of unsecured devices attached to your IP address, consult your device’s manual (most can be found online). Realize that if YOU can look up a default password and password change how-to online, cyber criminals and pranksters can as well. An ill-intentioned person may attempt to “talk” to your device via its IP address using a computer program with built-in, known default passwords or common passwords. Once the password is matched, this person has control of your device.

While researching your device, check to see if the manufacturer provides software or firmware updates. These updates often contain security patches, which will protect your device and home network from malware. For more tech-savvy users, consider setting up a VLAN. The VLAN can separate any vulnerable devices and prevent a hacker from accessing the rest of your network.

Another way to protect yourself and your family from intrusion is to check the privacy settings of all internet-connected apps. If your child will be introduced to social media this holiday season, make sure their accounts are set up in a way that protects their privacy. Most social media apps have an option to make accounts private so only approved connections can see an individual’s posts and pictures. Private accounts are less likely to receive spam that may contain malware, but you and your child should still exercise caution when clicking on any links. Type the name of the app and “privacy” into your favorite search engine for directions on how to set privacy restrictions.

Enjoy your new technology safely this holiday season!

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