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How do you protect your privacy and data in an Internet of Things world?

Learn how to protect your privacy and data in our new connected world of billions of devices or "things".

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The Internet of Things is changing the way we live in a big way. Whether it's in our home, in our car or at the office, more Internet-enabled devices or "things" are coming online, handling tasks from regulating the temperature in your house, telling us the CO2 levels in a room, and unlocking doors, while also monitoring a car's performance and location, while adjusting the lights at work. All that you need to take advantage of these new capabilities is a solid Wi-Fi network, maybe one that takes advantage of Wi-Fi 6, a smartphone, tablet or even just your computer.

All this new technology and functionality, however, brings new vulnerabilities, including increased risk of security breaches that can result in your data — and even your devices — falling into the hands of hackers. Malware attempts happen in the first five minutes a device is online. So, then, how do you protect yourself, your data and your devices and keep your home, your car and people you care about safe? You need to keep the network where everything connects safe, while also doing what you can to lock down your devices.

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Here are some tips we have found that will be helpful in securing your home, car and wearables:

How to secure your connected home

While smart devices often include security elements to keep them — and the data they collect — secure, a solid Wi-Fi connection is also necessary. Many ISPs offer security built into their networks, which is something to ask about when signing up for coverage.

Companies also use methods, like two-factor authentication, to help keep you in control of your devices — and hackers out of them. It doesn't hurt to also take basic steps, like changing a default password, and other actions that can at least make it more difficult for your data to be syphoned off a device or a cloud-based server.

Other suggestions?

• Symantec, for example, suggests you enable Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) or WPA 2 on your router. WPA is a security protocol that encrypts the data sent on your network so that it can't be intercepted by outsiders. Some routers might also — or in some cases only — support an older protocol called WEP (Wireless Encryption Protocol), but that's not as secure.

• Consider using a password manager. Google's password tool is even free. These are programs or apps that store all of your passwords in one place — but encrypt them. A password manager can auto-install your passwords into an app, and most use two-factor authentication meaning if your password is in fact lost, you need to identify yourself through a second method, and not from the same device.

• Pick up a security key, many of which will also work with password managers, and are a physical way to infuse added security methods into your smart home and the way you run your devices.

• Finally, update your software when it needs updating — on any and every device. Your entire smart home is only as secure as its weakest link. If one device is not up to date on its operating system and anti-malware fixes, then your entire network, from a smart speaker to your lights, can be at risk.


How to secure a connected car

Let's move to your car, a space where most people spend a significant amount of time during their day. In the past few years, car makers have started to infuse a number of autonomous features into these vehicles. While not every car on the road is as advanced as a Tesla, the number of things cars can do — from park themselves, to alert you to a break in — is growing rapidly.

The two biggest concerns with a connected car are the vehicle's computer system and the data it collects and stores. Cars today have far more elaborate computer systems than those that once called up your entertainment system or supported hands-free calling. Now, your vehicle can chat with some of the smart home systems that power your house, like Amazon Alexa or Android Auto (which uses Google Assistant), and let you create scenes — or instructions — that your devices can follow. Want the lights to come on in the house, and thermostat running before you walk in the door? That can happen.

Services and applications delivered to your car happen through two ways, over Bluetooth via your smartphone or tablet, or through a networked system that links, through a wireless connection, to the outside world.

Here are some tips we found on how best to prevent hackers from gaining access to your connected car's computer system, the data it collects and stores, or the smartphone and tablet you bring along for the ride.

  • Secure your smartphone, as this is an easier target for hackers. That means updating the OS whenever you get a notification, and take advantage of security tools like Face ID or fingerprinting.
  • Only visit certified repair centers, which can reduce the risk of having false repair alerts get triggered, or malware potentially being added to your car's system.
  • If you want to install aftermarket parts, check with your car dealer first to make sure they are safe.

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How to secure your office

At work, you'll likely have an IT department to handle the security of your office devices like your computer or printers. But it never hurts to make sure you'll following safety precautions there as well.

  • If you're in a large office space, make sure you're using the password-protected Wi-Fi offered — and not trying to piggy back on a local free Wi-Fi network that may just be next door. That will help to protect your own personal devices, like your smartphone.
  • If you're using your own laptop, think of connecting to the internet through the ISP on your smartphone, turning it into a password- protected hot spot. That way, if something is churning around on the office network, it's less likely to make its way into your device.
  • Finally, be especially wary of phishing attempts through your work email accounts. These are fake emails, made to look like they're coming from a co-worker or even business contact, tricking you into clicking a link or sharing personal information. They're a great way for hackers to get details they can potentially use to gain access to your network.

Summary

The Internet of Things is rapidly changing the way we live, move around and work. Billions of new devices are already online, with more coming, to make your life more convenient. But by connecting each one, to the internet, they're also opening more doors for potential hackers to enter as well.

While hackers get smarter every day, there's no reason to make it easy for them to gain access to your details, your devices and your life. As new technology comes to market, consider updating devices, routers — and certainly the operating systems that run these products, whether it's something as simple as a smart speaker or as complicated as your car.

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