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Keeping Internet-Connected Devices Updated and Separated

Updated: Jan 15, 2023

Information provided by and used with permission of Lake Travis Community Library.

As I was installing the latest update to my smartphone today, I started thinking about how many Internet-connected devices we have in our home. To my surprise, I counted 39 (Holy cow)! These include smartphones, tablets, computers, thermostats, deadbolt locks, robot vacuums, TVs, a doorbell camera, music amplifiers, a washer/dryer, lighting systems, and even a bathroom scale!

All of these Internet-connected devices have the ability to update their software, which is very important because bad guys can exploit security vulnerabilities in these devices, and once malware (bad software or firmware) is inside your home, it could permeate to other devices.

Keeping devices updated

A couple of my devices needed me to explicitly turn on automatic updates. These are older devices as (I think) all of my newer devices had automatic updates enabled “out of the box,” and some of my devices don’t allow me to turn off automatic updates (which I see as goodness). I’ve seen some folks get so excited about getting a new device set up that they don’t go through all of the settings to check that automatic updates are turned on, and once running, it’s easy to forget to go back and check for such things later. I STRONGLY recommend that you turn on automatic updates on all of your Internet-connected devices. Yes, there might be some short-term pain in doing so as many of us have stories of getting an update that breaks some function or creates a learning curve to figure out a new interface, but the risk of not getting security patches (and almost all updates address newly discovered security holes) far outweighs these temporary obstacles.

Another best practice is to ALWAYS change the default password – bad guys know the default passwords for these devices.

Consider separate networks

Having your computer or laptop on the same network as your washing machine or oven is also not ideal. The reason is because if a home smart device does become compromised, it will give the bad guy direct network access to your computer or laptop where your data is stored. This can be avoided by creating separate Wi-Fi networks or wired (Local Area Network) networks on the same router. Many routers provide for multiple networks, like a main and a guest network, out of the box. The main and guest networks are separate networks like I’m referring to for your home smart devices.

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