How to Protect Yourself From the Potential Risks of Smart Devices

Smart devices

We have entered an era where everyday items like thermostats, refrigerators, sprinklers, coffee makers and speakers can be connected to the internet. While these devices make our daily lives much easier and can help increase our productivity, they also pose unique security risks. Most consumers wouldn’t imagine hackers lurking in their smart fridges, printers or even their children’s toys, but the value of our personal data has become exponentially more valuable in recent years. As a result, hackers can be anywhere. Just like computers and cellphones, smart devices are vulnerable to cyberhacking.

While this revelation can be concerning for consumers, it should be equally concerning for organizations as most have employees working from home. The risk of cyberthreats has shifted in recent months, as hackers seek to take advantage of the growing number of people who are working from home and increasingly relying on connected smart devices. Once in your personal home network or devices, hackers can do anything from steal your banking information to access your security cameras to spy on your family to potentially gaining access to your company’s network. For organizations, ensuring your employees continue practicing good cyberhygiene is critical to ensuring business continuity in our new normal.  

We recently conducted a survey with Angus Reid which thankfully found that 86 percent of Canadians take smart device protection seriously, and yet only 64 percent change the default settings or passwords on their smart devices. These figures should be closer to 100 percent in an ideal world, and highlight that, although Canadians take smart device protection seriously, they need to take action. To help Canadians protect themselves from potential risks associated with smart devices, we’ve put together a list of safety tips you can follow to help keep your information, your home and your information safe from prying eyes.

Reset default settings

Many smart devices come with factory default settings, like pre-set usernames and passwords. In some cases, these default settings extend to very generous data permissions, such as usage, location or other personal information you may not want to share. Moreover, these default settings are regularly published online and are at the fingertips of hackers who know where to look. Perhaps unsurprisingly, only 64 percent of Canadians change the default settings or passwords on their smart devices on a regular basis, leaving many open to preventable vulnerabilities. Nearly one quarter (24 percent) said indicated that revisiting default settings is not a priority.

Not checking privacy settings or using any form of protection leaves users vulnerable to a breach as hackers with malicious intent are adept at breaking into devices with factory default settings. To protect yourself from those looking to steal your data, manually reset your device’s default settings. This includes changing pre-set usernames and passwords, as well as going through your device or app’s privacy settings to ensure you don’t share any information you don’t want to share.  

Use a separate network

Smart devices can be an easy access point to your network and everything that’s adjacent to it. Our survey found that over half of respondents (58 percent) take network protection seriously, and that 84 percent use passcodes or passphrases to protect their network. With this in mind, we recommend establishing two separate networks in your home: one for your everyday smart devices and another for the devices you use to conduct business or to access and store private information. Many routers will allow you to create multiple networks, each with a unique username and password. Leveraging this security option will help protect sensitive data in the event that a bad actor breaks into a connected device, as it will be tied to an entirely siloed home network. Check your Wi-Fi settings to find the option to set up a second network in your home or install an entirely separate internet connection with a different router.

Update your software

Keep your devices up to date with the latest software, as they often come with bug and security patches to help protect you from the latest threats. Some smart devices or apps will provide you with the option to set up automatic updates, while others will prompt you to install it manually. You may even need to check the manufacturer’s website to find out when updates are being released. Regardless, staying on top of software updates will help to protect you from cybercriminals looking to break into a weak device. Canadians are tracking well against this measure, as our survey found that 83 percent of working Canadians have their devices set to automatically install system upgrades and software patches.

Enable multi-factor authentication

Just under half of Canadians (46 percent) use multi-factor authentication (MFA) when signing into their smart devices. While that number may sound promising, this reveals that over half of the adult population in Canada either doesn’t know (8 percent) or does not (46 percent) use MFA with their smart devices. Moreover, MFA usage for smart devices measures the lowest against Canadians who implement MFA in other device-types such as computers (55 percent), networks and phones (51 percent each, respectively).

Given that it’s an easy step to take in order to protect yourself, your home and your data from cyberthreats, these numbers are concerningly low. Enabling MFA is like creating a second password, or barrier, for your device. This makes it harder for cybercriminals to access your private information because it requires two separate methods of proving the user is actually you. It’s important to utilize these barriers so hackers can hit a roadblock and look elsewhere.

Turn off your devices

Many smart devices are just waiting to hear a voice prompt or motion sensor to activate, but in doing so maintain a permanent and live connection to your home network. When you aren’t home or if you go on vacation, remember to unplug any smart devices that you won’t need to access while you’re away. Even when smart appliances and home assistants are seemingly dormant, they can provide a convenient access point for a bad actor to launch an attack on your unsuspecting network and everything connected to it.

With decades of experience, CDW can objectively assess your organization’s cybersecurity practices and create a strategy that helps you predict, prevent and quickly respond to evolving cyberattacks. To learn more, visit