Your Home May Be Under Cyber Attack

Go change your password, right now

Key Takeaways

  • A new study finds that users often underestimate the number of cyberattacks their home networks are subjected to. 
  • The threat of cyber-attacks is growing as more people work from home during the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • Hacking is surprisingly easy, observers say.
Rear view of a computer hacker working in front of two computer screens.
Maskot / Getty Images

Web-users vastly underestimate how often their home networks are targeted by cyber threats, according to a new report by internet provider Comcast. 

The report highlights the growing threats from cyberattacks as more people are working from home during the coronavirus pandemic. In a survey, respondents estimated that the average volume was 12 attacks per month, but the real number is 104. But there are ways to defend your home against attacks. 

"The most important way to protect yourself online is to stop and think before you click a link or open an email attachment," Noopur Davis, chief product and information security officer at Comcast, said in an email interview.

"If it looks suspicious, it probably is. Another easy way to protect yourself is by using multifactor authentication wherever it’s offered. Also, enable auto-updates on devices—including any connected camera, smart thermostat, printer or voice assistant. Use strong, unique passwords, and enable broadband connection security offered by your ISP."

Experts Say Threats Are Increasing

"Ransomware and phishing attempts have increased with more people working, learning, and shopping from home," Jen Bazela, director of cybersecurity programs at IT company Unisys, said in an email interview.

"The holidays especially are a time where we see phishing attempts rise, and with stay-at-home orders in place, more people are learning online."

According to the Comcast report, the top five most vulnerable devices in connected homes are PCs and laptops, smartphones, networked cameras, networked storage devices, and streaming video devices.

Illustration of data security showing a lock with code overlayed and electrodes.
 Andriy Onufriyenko / Getty Images

The survey also found that 96% of users were not familiar with how to answer six basic true/false cyberthreat questions. Also, 85% of respondents said they are taking all the necessary security precautions needed to protect their home networks, and yet 64% acknowledged risky habits like sharing passwords with friends and family. 

Keeping Track of Threats is Hard

"The cyber threats facing even the most lightly connected homes have grown so numerous and so complex, that ordinary people can barely keep track, much less protect themselves," Davis said. 

Hacking is surprisingly easy, observers say.

"There’s a search engine called Shodan.IO that allows you to search for signatures from nearby networked devices—using that information an enterprising criminal could identify the IP address, the type of device (down to the model) and then look up its default admin credentials," Lila Kee, the chief product officer at internet certification company GlobalSign, said in an email interview. "That’s all you need to hack it. They now have admin access to that device."

Many attacks are harmless, but not all, Kee said. "If it’s like a refrigerator and they try to add it to a botnet to mine bitcoin. Refrigerators mining bitcoin is funny. Not so funny when it’s your kids’ webcams or the security cams in your house." 

Peeping through Your Webcam

While some hackers are seeking financial gain like credit card information, privacy is a concern as well. "There are already examples of intruders gaining access to Ring cameras and spying on domestic activities," Steven Umbrello, managing director of nonprofit think tank the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, said in an email interview.

"Much of this can be attributed to the negligence of manufacturers to not inform users of the risks while also not mandating or explaining two-factor authentications, particularly to those who are not informed as to the potential risks of networked systems."

Despite the increasing number of threats, there are ways to protect your home from cyberattacks, experts say. Start by changing the password on your home routers, Michael Puldy, the founder and CEO of cybersecurity firm Puldy Resiliency Partners, said in an email interview.

"Many routers come with default user IDs and passwords, or even no passwords," he added. "Changing them to something only you know is an important first step."

The cyber threats facing even the most lightly connected homes have grown so numerous and so complex, that ordinary people can barely keep track, much less protect themselves.

Creating strong passwords is also a must, Puldy said. "I recommend at least 12 characters at a minimum, and if the system or application allows it, add spaces," he added. "For example, `The Cat is #1 in the Home$.' Not too crazy, but is difficult to break."

Another good habit to get into is to apply maintenance to your software and operating system regularly. 

"In some cases, the easiest thing to do is reboot your computer once a week, and when the software is restarted, the maintenance will be automatically applied," Puldy said. "At a minimum, when your computer asks you to apply maintenance to your software, always say yes." 

While cyberattackers may be prowling for your home network passwords, there are steps you can take to stop them. Just keep your guard up and don't use the default setting on your internet devices.

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