Smart devices are increasingly being used for harassment and abuse. Cyber Insider offers some tips on how to protect yourself and your family from such behaviour
Smart devices are increasingly being used as tools for domestic abuse, with perpetrators changing settings to confuse and harass their victims, and cameras being used to spy on people. How can such actions be stopped?
THERE’S A DISTURBING new trend going on with smart devices: domestic abuse. According to a report in the
New York Times, this kind of abuse is on the increase. Women reported how their air conditioning would suddenly turn off, or their smart lock would change codes on a daily basis. In all cases, there was confusion until the truth came out: a partner who had access to the technology was deliberately changing settings to confuse, harass and deliberately scare their victims.
Beyond this, there have been cases of smart cameras being used to spy on people, further breaching trust and confidentiality. It’s a terrifying situation and one that could well spread further.
As smart devices get installed into more houses, imagine buying a new one only to find that the previous owner can still control your heating or spy on the front door. Perhaps the last bit of the sale went a bit wrong, and now the previous owner is out to get you, messing around with your internal controls and settings.
Similarly with rented accommodation. If you move in, do you really have full control over everything, or is the landlord sitting there monitoring your movements or turning down the heating to save on costs?
It’s not just home devices, either. Some cars have connected systems that let you lock and unlock them remotely, as well as track them using GPS. Technically, when buying a second-hand car, the dealer should reset the system, but I wouldn’t put bets on it.
The widespread abuse of smart devices is upon us and the situation is only likely to get worse. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy thing to fix.
To make handing control of a smart device to a new person easier would also make it easier for hackers to gain control, and that would be just as bad a situation, if not worse.
While the manufacturers and policymakers try to sort things out, you can take matters into your own hands. With a little bit of knowledge, you can help friends and family stay on the right side of smart devices.
In your own home, it’s essential that everyone old enough to use them has access to the smart apps that control devices. Many devices support multiple user accounts, so you can grant access to other people and see who changed what when.
More important than direct control, everyone having the same apps means it’s clearer what has been installed in the house, and what it does. It also puts control into everyone’s hands, letting them see what’s happening in the house and why.
Security cameras are a great idea for protecting your home, but any use should be controlled: what time the cameras will operate, what will trigger them, and what their purpose is. Again, all apps for security cameras (including smart doorbells) should be shared through the family. That way, it’s clear what’s going on, and everyone has the opportunity to shut off a camera when they want to.
A NEW BEGINNING
Installing smart devices carefully in your own home is one thing, but what about when you buy a new house that has already been kitted out? Taking a pragmatic approach will help you out.
Now, many smart devices will stop working when you change the wireless router: this will stop smart kit from being able to connect to the internet. But don’t rely on this alone, as not all smart devices work this way. The Philips Hue system, for example, uses a Bridge that plugs in via Ethernet to your home network. As long as that Bridge is connected and hasn’t been reset, it will continue to communicate with the old owner. This is true of any device that has an Ethernet port. For devices that have a built-in SIM, such as some alarm systems, an internet connection is not technically needed.
The key thing is to factoryreset all devices and set them up from scratch. The process differs from device to device, but if you search online for the product manual for any product, you’ll find the reset procedure there. Make sure you do a full reset; just resetting network settings and connecting a device to your network won’t remove the previous owner’s access: in fact, you’ll have just brought a device back online for them to see.
It pays to make any smart kit part of a contract to buying a place. That contract should state that the previous owner revokes all rights to use the kit and that they’ll provide details of the reset procedure and any verification required.
Stiffer punishments for people that abuse smart devices should be looked at, too, as this issue is something that’s going to grow and grow as more smart devices are sold.
There have been cases of smart cameras being used to spy on people, further breaching trust and confidentiality. It’s a terrifying situation and one that could well spread further